Combat Over Lavansaari
by Jan Bobek
Reconstruction of air combat of May 21, 1943 near Lavansaari in which Maximilian Stotz of 5./JG 54 shot down I-153 of the 71st IAP VVS BMF, probably piloted st. Serzhant A. M. Sofyin.
Most people will be reminded of the opposing air forces of the Soviet Union and
Finland when coming across material dealing with combat over Karelia and Gulf
of Finland during the Second World War. The German Air Force joined in the fighting over the Finnish gulf intensively in 1941, and continued operating in the area in
subsequent years despite their focus on this front was south of Leningrad. Up to
mid-1943, Jagdgeschwader 54 „Grünherz“ was active here, although its I., II., and III.
Gruppe were also assigned other tasks in different areas along the Eastern Front.
In August, 1943, the these parts of JG 54 were replaced in Leningrad area by the
newly formed IV./JG 54.
A little known fact is that, at the beginning of 1943, 7./JG 26 „Schlageter“, commanded by Hptm. Klaus Mietusch (75 kills), was moved into the area from western
Europe. The unit was equipped with the Fw 190, and they helped in the conversion
of their JG 54 colleagues onto the type prior to returning to France mid-year.
With the introduction of the Fw 190, there came some inevitable situations, during
which the German and Finnish fighter pilots mistook the silhouette of their new
aircraft with that of the Soviet Lavochkin fighters. The close proximity of the Finnish
coastline held some advantages for the Germans. The nightlife on the southern
shores of Gulf of Finland was practically non-existent. And so, the Germans so-
In the photo from the Utti base stands in the background Bf 109 G-2 with fuselage number MT-203. In
a battle with the I-153 pilots on May 20, 1943 Luutn. Esko Kustaa Ruotsila was shot down and killed in
this plane. He previously flew the Hawker Hurricane and Curtiss Hawk, achieving 4.5 victories. MT 203
had serial number 14726 and Stammkennzeichen "RF+UV". The ship was manufactured at the end of
1942 at WNF and flew 56 hours and 30 minutes. In the foreground Kers Klaus Alakoski (28 v.) adjusts
parachute straps. He stands in front of 109 with fuselage number MT-214. Photo: SA-Kuva
metimes suffered timely „technical difficulties“ that just happened to occur when
a landing at Helsinki allowed an evening visit into town. Often, the German pilots
had to deal with overwhelming numerical superiority of the local girls. But day
to day living in times of war was a matter of life and death, and this was evident
through May, 1943, when I. and II./JG 54 lost five pilots (killed or missing) and two
were wounded. Both Gruppen lost twenty Fw 190s, either in combat or mishaps,
during the month.
Fighters at Lavansaari
If there was anyone who could only dream about the city nightlife, it was the Soviet
pilots from the 71st IAP VVS KBF with their base on the island of Lavansaari in
the middle of the Gulf of Finland. Even up to the middle of 1943, their equipment
comprised of I-153 and I-15bis biplane fighters. In March, 1942 regiment took over
1st eskadril'ya of the 11th IAP VVS KBF with their I-16s. Regiment took on more I-16s
from 12th OIAE VVS KBF in October of the same year. It wasn’t until the middle of
1943 when the 71st IAP received its modern La-5s. For its successes, it was elevated to Guards status and its designation changed to the 10th GIAP VVS KBF. Over
the Second World War, the unit flew some 20,000 combat sorties and destroyed 197
enemy aircraft in the air and 21 on the ground. (1)
This unit in the Leningrad area of operations mostly faced German opposition, but
its detachment in Lavansaari often met the Finns in combat. For example, on March
24th, 1943, a pair of Soviet Polikarpov I-153s met three enemy I-153s from LeLv 30,
forcing one of the Finns to make an emergency landing on the frozen water of
the Gulf. The damaged aircraft was eventually destroyed by the Finns themselves.
The middle of March, 1943 saw the Finnish Air Force’s LeLv 34 begin accepting delivery of the Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2. Successful combat use of the type quickly
followed. Interestingly, the first Bf 109 with the blue swastika to be shot down was
done so by I-153 pilots of the 71st IAP KBF. This occurred on the morning of May
20th, while escorting a Soviet convoy between Seiskari and Lavansaari. Four I-153s
met a pair of the Bf 109s. One of the biplanes was hit and its pilot, Starshiy Serzhant
Ramazan Rustanov, had to ditch in the sea. However, Serzh. Nikolay Karpenko
and St. Serzh. Abram J. Olshanskiy were able to hit the engine of MT-203 at low
altitude, leading to an explosion and a crash into the sea off Hamina. Luutn. Esko
Kustaa Ruostila was killed.
Battle Over the Island
One of the days to see intense combat over Lavansaari was May 21st, 1943. In the
brisk early morning hours, 7./JG 26 moved westward from their base at Siverskaya to Kotly. On that morning near Lake Khabolovo, Hptm. Klaus Mietusch claimed
two kills and Obfw. Heinz Kemethmüller one fighter and two Pe-2 bombers. The
Soviets lost two Yak-7s and a Yak-1 from the 21st IAP in the area, as well two Pe-2s from the 73rd BAP. In subsequent action, Mietusch’s Fw 190s headed out over
Lavansaari, where both the Finns and the Germans reported a higher level of enemy activity. Formations from II./JG 54, commanded by Oblt. Maximilian Stotz, also
moved into the area, and might have involved its entire 5th Staffel.
The 71st IAP KBF attacked an enemy convoy at Tytarsaari after 1100 hours (Moscow
INFO Eduard - March 2021