Finnish Ilmari Juutilainen – The Double Fighter Knight – Highest Scoring Non-German Ace – 94 Aerial Victories

anil chopra, air power asia, Ilmari Juutilainen, Finnish Air Force

Eino Ilmari “Illu” Juutilainen was a fighter pilot of the Ilmavoimat (Finnish Air Force), and the top scoring non-German fighter pilot of all time. This makes him the top flying ace of the Finnish Air Force, leading all Finnish pilots in score against Soviet aircraft in World War II (1939–40 and 1941–44), with 94 confirmed aerial combat victories in 437 sorties, though he himself claimed 126 victories. He achieved 34 of his victories while flying the Brewster Buffalo fighter. Juutilainen flew Fokker D.XXI, Brewster Buffalo, and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters. He 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 Saburō 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. He was one of the four double recipients of the Mannerheim Cross 2nd Class.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Early Years – Interest in Flying

           Juutilainen was born 21 February 1914 in Lieksa, a town located in the North Karelia region of Finland. He spent his childhood in Sortavala. As a teenager he was a member of the Volunteer Maritime Defence Association and loved sailing at the Laatokka Sea. There was an Ilmavoimat  Finnish Air Force  base in the middle of their town, and most youngsters were enamored and developed interest in flying. Many became pilots. Also another inspiration was a book about the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, which his elder brother gave him. He remembered reading it and dreaming about aerial manoeuvres.

Image Source:

Initial Training and Service

          He began his national service as an assistant mechanic in the 1st Separate Maritime Squadron from 1932 to 1933, then got a pilot’s license in a civilian course. He then joined the  Finnish Air Force  as a non-commissioned officer and got military pilot training in the  Air Force Academy at Kauhava from 1935 to 1936. His first assignment, was on 04 February, 1937, in LeLv 12 (12 air squadron) at Suur-Merijoki Air Base near Viipuri. In 1938 he went to Utti Air Base and got one year of fighter flying and weaponry exposure. Then, on March 3, 1939, he was assigned to LeLv 24, a fighter unit equipped with Dutch-built Fokker D.XXIs, at Utti Air Base, north east of Helsinki.

Fokker DXXI. Image Source:

His Brother – The Terror of Morocco

          His brother was the Finnish Army Captain Aarne Juutilainen, nicknamed “The Terror of Morocco”, who served in the French Foreign Legion in Morocco between 1930 and 1935. After returning to Finland, he served in the Finnish army and became a national hero in the Battle of Kollaa during the Winter War with the Soviet Union. He was wounded three times during World War II. He fought in several battles against the Berber rebels in the Atlas Mountains. In November 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, starting the Winter War. Aarne served in the Finnish army during this war, notably during the Battle of Kollaa. When Lt. General Woldemar Hägglund‘s questioned “Will Kollaa hold?” Lieutenant Aarne Juutilainen famously answered: “Kollaa will hold, unless the orders are to run.” During his command at Kollaa in December 1939, Aarne negotiated with Hägglund about the strategy for the Kollaa Front. The Battle of Kollaa was strategically important. A week earlier, he had received a regimental order to withdraw, which he disregarded. Aarne was honoured with the term “Creator of the Kollaa Spirit”. Aarne’s men called him “papa”. He used the guerilla warfare skills he learned with the French Foreign Legion to train his men. By this time, Aarne had lost one finger of his right hand as a result of Russian shrapnel.

Finnish Army Captain Aarne Juutilainen, the “The Terror of Morocco”. Image Source: Wikipedia

Soviet -FinnishWar

          When Hitler was embroiled in a war against Britain and France, Stalin grabbed what he considered strategic territories adjacent to Russia. One concession Stalin sought was part of Finland’s Karelian Isthmus on which he wanted to build air and naval bases. (Stalin`s real plan was to occupy the entire Finland just like the Baltic countries. When Finland refused to give up her lands the Soviets bombed Helsinki and launched and invasion on November 30, 1939. The ensuing conflict, known as the Winter War, ended on March 13, 1940, with the Soviet occupation of 10 percent of Finnish land, but not before the Red Army had suffered several humiliating defeats. The Voyenno Vozdushny Sily (Red Army air force, of VVS) had suffered even more disproportionate to the outnumbered but highly skilled pilots of the Suomen Ilmavoimat (the Finnish air force).

Finland’s territorial concessions to the Soviet Union displayed in red. Image Source: Wikipedia

Initial Tactics

          Ilmari “Illu” Juutilainen, was interviewed many years later by by Jon Guttman, for Military History. He explained about prevailing tactics that the international trend in the early 1930’s was to use a tight, three-plane formation, or “vic”, as a basic fighter element. However, Finland had very few fighters , and they considered the tight formations ineffective.  Finns preferred a loose two-aircraft section as the basic fighter element. Divisions (four fighters) and flights (eight aircraft) were made of loose sections, but always maintaining the independence of the section. The distance between the fighters in the section was 150 – 200 meters, and the distance between sections in a division was 300 – 400 meters. The principle was always to attack, regardless of numbers; that way the larger enemy formation was broken up and combat became a sequence of section duels, in which the better pilots always won. Finnish fighter training heavily emphasized the complete handling of the fighter and shooting accuracy. Even basic training at the Air Force Academy included a lot of aerobatics with all the basic combat manoeuvres and aerial gunnery.

Image Source:

Initial Reaction to Outbreak of War

          Juutilainen was mentally ready, when the war broke. But it seemed real only when he took off for his first intercept mission. Finns were angry about Stalin’s demands that Finland give the Soviet Union certain areas to improve Leningrad’s security. The nation’s reaction to the war was not analytical – it was emotional. The feeling was, “When I die, there will be many enemies dying, too.” All fighters and weapons were prepared. In October 1939, with the situation worsening, the Squadron moved further north-east to Immola, closer to the Finnish-Soviet frontier. Shelters were built for the fighters. They began flying combat air patrols – careful to stay on own side, so that we didn’t provoke the Soviets. The younger pilots got additional training in aerial combat and gunnery. During bad weather they indulged in sports, pistol shooting and discussions about fighter tactics.

Polikarpov I-16. Image Source: You Tube

The Fokker D.XXI

          That was the best available fighter with Finns in 1939, but the opposing  Soviet Polikarpov I-16 was faster, had better agility and also had protective armour for the pilot. Illu got a chance to fly the I-16 many years later as part of war booty, and he found it did 215 knots at low level and turned around a dime. In comparison, the Fokker could make about 175. The D.XXI also lacked armour, but it had good diving characteristics and it was a steady shooting platform. The gunnery training made the Fokker a winner in the Winter War.

Winter War – Juutilainen Initial Air Success

          The Winter War began three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. Despite superior military strength, especially in tanks and aircraft, the Soviet Union suffered severe losses and initially made little headway. During the Winter War, Juutilainen flew the Fokker D.XXI. December 19, 1939, was the first real combat day after a long period of bad weather. When he was close to Antrea, he got a radio message of three enemy bombers approaching. Soon, he made contact with three Ilyushin DB-3s. He was about 1,500 feet higher than them and started the attack. The DB-3s immediately dropped their bomb loads in the forest and turned back. He shot the three rear gunners, one by one. Then he started to shoot the engines. He followed them a long way and kept on shooting. One of them nosed over and crashed. The two others continued in a shallow descent, smoking down. When he finished all of ammunition, he turned back. There was no real air combat. It was more like firing on a training target.

Ilyushin DB-3. Image Source: Wikipedia

Meaning of 1/6 Shared Victory

          The Soviet bombers flew without fighter escort, and that was a typical situation when the Finnish flight attacked a formation of Tupolev SB-2s. Several fighters shot at several targets, and the kills were then shared, because it was impossible to distinguish a decisive attack. Later, the system was changed and kills were assigned to some particular pilot.

First encounter with I-16

            As  per Illu 31st December was a classic air combat. He was at a very good initial position behind that Soviet aircraft, but he saw the attacker and began a hard left turn. Illu followed, shooting occasionally, to test his nerves. Both lost speed as they circled tightly under the 600 feet low cloud base. The I-16 was much more agile, and was gradually gaining advantage. As he was getting into Illu’s rear sector, Illu pulled into the cloud, and continuing his hard left turn. Once inside it, he reversed right and came out of the cloud. He was soon behind the opponent. Before he could see him, he was already close at  about 100 yards range. Illu fired with tracers a few yards in front of him, and eased the stick pressure to lower the aiming point. Burst hit the engine, and it began to belch smoke. The target pitched over and went into the forest. At the end of the Winter War, Juutilainen had achieved one shared and two individual victories.

Image Source: Pinterest

Other Types of Missions By Finns

          Finnish reconnaissance aircraft were obsolete, so they flew many daytime reconnaissance missions. They occasionally carried out some ground-attack missions until the last days of the war. For the fighter pilots they were boring missions. The Soviets mostly massed their fighters to cover the ground troops. Finns used tried to achieve surprise by using the weather and attacks from different directions every time.

Between the Wars

          At the end of the Winter War, the Soviets gained part of the Finland’s land area, albeit at significant cost and losses. The intervening period was used by Finland to overhaul the fighter fleet. Also new aircraft like Gloster Gladiators, Fiat G.50s and Morane-Saulnier MS 406s, got inducted. Finland did not have enough resources to continue a prolonged campaign alone, but they never surrender. New fighter, the American Brewster 239 Buffalo got inducted. These were acquired during the Winter War despite the U.S. law which prohibited the sale of war material to the combatant countries. The loophole which permitted the acquisition of the Brewster 239s was a clause in the law which permitted the sale of ‘rejected’ equipment. It was ‘arranged’ that the U.S. Navy rejected 44 Brewster Buffaloes which were then sold to Finland at a ‘nominal price.'” (Only 43 F2As were released). Juutilainen joined Brewster flights in the beginning of April 1940. Brewster was a good aircraft, agile, had over 4 hours endurance, one 7,62 mm and three 12,7 machine guns, and armoured plating around pilot’s seat.

Brewster Buffalo. Image Source:

Ilmari’s Tactics

          Ilmari Juutilainen’s autobiography, “Double Fighter Knight”, describes the general tactics followed by him and the FAF. An FAF fighter formation consisted of eight planes in two divisions, with two sections in each division. The forward division attacked. The rear division flew at a higher altitude and “a little behind and off to one side,” going into combat only when the situation demanded. What’s most astonishing about Sgt. Juutilainen’s fighting style was the extreme close range at which he preferred to fight. He regularly recalled shooting at 50 yards, and speaks of following a MiG-3 plane close that his Brewster was “drafting” on the slipstream. Even a Hawker Hurricane left him undaunted. He would come in at high speed from above and behind and pull the throttle back to idle. As the target grew in the gunsight, and looked real big, he would think he is in perfect firing range. Checked his tail once again. Now he could count rivets on the target and the range was about thirty yards.

Ilmari Juutilainen (right), Joppe Karhunen, Pekka Kokko briefing for combat 1941. Image Source:

Continuation War 

          The Continuation War was a conflict fought by Finland and Nazi Germany, as co-belligerents, against the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1941 to 1944, during World War II. Russians call it the Finnish Front of the Great Patriotic War. Germany regarded its operations in the region as part of its overall war efforts on the Eastern Front and provided Finland with critical material support and military assistance, including economic aid. The Continuation War began 15 months after the end of the Winter War, also fought between Finland and the USSR. By the time of the Continuation War, the Finns had acquired open-cockpit Fiat G.50 Freccias from Italy, Morane-Saulnier 406s from Vichy France, and war-booty export models of the Curtiss P-36 from Germany (captured in France), in addition to the Brewsters. During the Continuation War, Juutilainen served in 3rd Flight of 24 Squadron, flying a Brewster B-239 “Buffalo”.

Finnish fighter Pilots Jorma Karhunen and Ilmari Juutilainen (pictured right), and Brewster Buffalo in the background. Image Source:

Becomes Ace on  Brewster Buffalo

          On 21 July 1941, Juutilainen and five other Buffaloes 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’, making him an “ace” in the Brewster Buffalo. A few days later, on 1 August, seven fighters under the command of First Lieutenant Karhunen destroyed six I-16s near Rautjarvi, and Juutilainen (having been promoted to Warrant Officer in the meantime) claimed two of them.

Polikarpov I-153 ‘Chaika’. Image Source:

Major Encounter – Three Victories

          On the morning of 6 February 1942, while reconnoitering the Petrovkiy-Jam region of Russia with other LeLv 24 pilots, Juutilainen intercepted seven Tupolev SB bombers escorted by 12 MiG-3s. Juutilainen claimed two SBs. Juutilainen later recalled: 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.

Fighter ace Emil Vesa (29 victories) receiving advice from Ilmari Juutilainen (94 victories), June 1942. Image Source:

At Immola – Completes 22 Vctories

          On 27–28 March 1942, 3/LLv 24 moved to Immola in preparation for a Finnish Army offensive on Suursaari, in the Gulf of Finland. Although grossly outnumbered over the Gulf of Finland, LeLv 24 pilots were more experienced than their Soviet opponents from Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Even when they had the advantage of surprise and height, Soviet pilots did not succeed in shooting down Finnish pilots. On 28 March, WO Juutilainen, in patrol with Sgt Huotari, attacked some “Chaikas” of 11 IAP over the Suurkyla shoreline, at Gogland, and shot down two of them. These air victories took Juutilainen’s tally to 22. A month later, on 26 April, he became his unit’s first recipient of the Mannerheim Cross.

Ilmari Juutilainen in Cockpit Buffalo, BW-364 in 1942. Image Source:

          In June 1942 Adolf Hitler visited Immola Air Base in a four- engined Focke Wulf Condor escorted by two Brewsters. His mustache, “Illu” recalls, was dark brown rather than the expected black.

Finnish flying ace Ilmari Juutilainen demonstrating his dog fights to Lieutenant Jori Alanko. Römpötti, Finland. September, 1942. Image Source:

34 victories in Brewster B-239

          On 20 September, he took off with Capt Jorma Karhunen and 3/LeLv 24 pilots for a patrol of the Kronstadt-Tolbukhin – Seiskari region, an island in the Gulf of Finland, part of the Leningrad Oblast of Russia. Near the Estonian coast, they were bounced by ten Soviet fighters. But the Finnish quickly reacted and managed to down three of their opponents. WO Juutilainen was credited with two kills. All in all, Juutilainen scored 34 victories in Brewster B-239, 28 of them (including three triple kills) between 9 July 1941 and 22 November 1942, in his BW-364 “Orange 4”. In February 1943, Illu’s squadron switched to Messerschmitt Bf-109s from Germany. This was fortunate, because the Russians were now flying better aircraft. The war ended for Finland in 1944, by which time Illu had earned two Mannerheim crosses (making him the “double knight” of the title) and was the FAF’s top ace, credited with 94 air-to-air kills, including 36 on his pet Brewster, BW- 364.

Eino Ilmari Juutilainen. Image Source:

Ace in a Day Flying Bf 109G-2

          In February 1943, Juutilainen was transferred to LeLv 34, which used new Messerschmitt Bf 109G-2s. This was fortunate, because the Russians were now flying better aircraft. With the Bf 109, he shot down a further 58 enemy planes. He shot down six Soviet airplanes on 30 June 1944 (all confirmed on Soviet loss records), becoming an ace in a day and paralleling Jorma Sarvanto‘s score on 6 January 1940 in the Winter War. The war ended for Finland in 1944, by which time Illu had earned two Mannerheim crosses (making him the “double knight” of the title) and was the FAF’s top ace, credited with 94 air-to-air kills, including 36 on his pet Brewster, BW- 364.

Jorma Kalevi Sarvanto was a Finnish Air Force pilot and the foremost Finnish fighter ace of the Winter War, and Ace in a Day. Image Source: Wikipedia

Love of Flying and Aerial Victories

          Juutilainen refused an officer commission, fearing it would keep him from flying. In the two wars, Ilmari Juutilainen and his fellow pilots helped preserve their country’s independence and taught the Soviet Union a lesson: “If you threaten Finns, they do not become frightened–they become angry. And they never surrender.” Ilmari Juutilainen scored more than 94 victories in two wars, flying Fokker D.XXIs, Brewster B-239s and Messerschmitt Me-109Gs, making him the Finnish ace of aces. 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. Summary of his victories was:

Fokker D.XXI2 1/6
Brewster B-23934
Messerschmitt Bf 109G58
Total94 1/6

Summary of His Flying Qualities

          Ilmari Juutilainen’s autobiography, “Double Fighter Knight”, was translated by General Heikki Nikunen of the Finnish Air Force and Rear Admiral Paul Gillcrist (ret) of the U.S. Navy. In the foreword, Adm. Gillcrist writes the qualities that in his opinion made Illu such an exceptional fighter pilot. These included, aggressive – always the one to attack; superb situational awareness; good eyesight, always looking around; good at estimating deflection, a natural shooter; understood his aircraft, both strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the plane he was attacking; a natural pilot; pushed his aircraft to the edge, fought at the edge (pressing the fight to 20 yards from the enemy); physical endurance; self-confidence; and coolness under fire.

Staff sergeant Jouko Huotari, sergeant major (lentomestari) Ilmari Juutilainen and sergeant Emil Vesa from Flying Squadron 24 at Hirvas airfield, June 27, 1942. Airplane is Brewster Buffalo BW-364. Photo:, color by jhlcolorizing

Eino Ilmari Juutilainen’s Awards  

  1. April 26th, 1942  Vapaudenristin 2.luokan Mannerheim-risti (MR 2) (Knight of Mannerheim Cross)
  2. June 28th, 1944Vapaudenristin 2.luokka (VR 2)
  3. Cross of Liberty, 3rd Class with Oak Leaves and Swords
  4. Cross of Liberty, 4th Class with Oak Leaves and Swords (decorated twice)
  5. Medal of Liberty, 2nd Class
  6. Iron Cross, 1st Class
  7. Iron Cross, 2nd Class
Ace of Aces. A Book on Eino Ilmari Juutilainen. Image Source:

Continues to Fly Till Old

          After the wars, Juutilainen served in the air force until 1949. He worked as a professional pilot until 1956, flying people in his De Havilland Moth. His last flight was in 1997 at age 83, in a two-seat F-18 Hornet of the Finnish Air Force.

July 1996: Ilmari Juutilainen. Image Source:

Quiet Death – Great Legacy

          Juutilainen died at home in Tuusula (Tusby), a small town near Helsinki on his 85th birthday on 21 February 1999. Eino Ilmari “Illu” Juutilainen was the top scoring non-German fighter pilot of all time. This makes him the top flying ace of the Finnish Air Force, leading all Finnish pilots in score against Soviet aircraft in World War II (1939–40 and 1941–44), with 94 confirmed aerial combat victories in 437 sorties.

Picture Source:

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

5 thoughts on “Finnish Ilmari Juutilainen – The Double Fighter Knight – Highest Scoring Non-German Ace – 94 Aerial Victories

  1. It does not matter which Air Force one is in or for that matter which airplane one flies. The hallmark of a successful fighter pilot is, “These included, aggressive – always the one to attack; superb situational awareness; good eyesight, always looking around; good at estimating deflection, a natural shooter; understood his aircraft, both strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the plane he was attacking; a natural pilot; pushed his aircraft to the edge, fought at the edge (pressing the fight to 20 yards from the enemy); physical endurance; self-confidence; and coolness under fire.” As summarised in the text of the write-up.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: