Thursday, August 6, 2009

Profile 35: "Four Six One" as flown by Kyösti "Kössi" Karhila

Kyosti "Kossi" Karhila was a fighter pilot in the Finnish Air Force. He shot down well over 32* Russian airplanes in air-to-air combat, at least eight** of which were downed flying "MT-461" as shown - a German-built Messerschmitt Bf 109 G6/R6 fighter.

From an artistic standpoint, "Four Six One" was pure work. I have always thought the 109 was rather peculiar and never could get my head around how the the Messerschmitt looked. Too many subtle curves, bumps and quirky design shapes - the airplane's lines are not simple like an F6F or elegant like a Spitfire. A page from my sketchboook is included below - it was as a way to get into the "Luftwaffe vibe." When I finished that 109 in-flight (red arrow), I was surprised it looked even somewhat like a 109. I thought "Wow! How'd I do that?!"

The camouflage drove me nuts. Balancing the vague grays and weathering probably took a few days off the useful life of my eyes. I'm not 100% happy with the result, but Kossi approved and I'm in optic pain. I'm letting it go.

However, the history part of the process was utterly fascinating. This project began with a chance meeting in Cambridge, UK with one of the board members of the Finnish Aviation Museum Society. Earlier in the day, my buddies and I were talking about how (aside from a little incident with the Brits in 1812), America had never been invaded. War is something that has happened, "over there."

Having a beer in England, we were in one of those "over there" countries. In short order, our table grew to include 3 Americans, 1 Brit, 1 Belgian, an Australian and 3 Finns. Discussing politics and history with our new friends, the reality of human aggression and all of the gray, blurry decisions that arise from it became clear. And we Yanks had to come to the grateful understanding that we were culturally ignorant of war's doorstep experience. Thank. God.

Finland's history during WW2 is extraordinary. The Finns were Pro-West, Pro-Democracy, Pro-human rights, Anti-Communist, Pro-German, tolerant of Jews and masterful of the Russians and then ended up beating the Germans to appease the Russians...if you're interested in politics or history, Finland will fascinate, if not confuse.

Suffice it to state, the Finnish culture is strongly self-reliant and will do whatever it takes to stay whole. Bear in mind that Helsinki, along with London and Moscow, was one of only 3 European capitals that didn't experience some sort of occupation in WW2.

Aside from staving off the Russian juggernaut, Finland created and managed an amazingly effective air force with mostly obsolete aircraft. As a point of fact, of the 1,435 confirmed air-to-air victories over "the Ruskis", almost 1/3 of them were obtained by Finnish pilots flying the Brewster "Buffalo" - an airplane regarded as one of the worst combat aircraft of all time.*** It wasn't until the Finns bought fighters from the Germans that they had truly first-line aircraft to fight against the Soviets.

Back to Four Six One.

The airplane shown is a Bf 109 G-6/R6. Though the Bf-109 series was the most produced series of fighter aircraft in the history of aviation, the individual variants are wide and varied. The G-6/R6 variant was created as a bomber-destroyer by tacking on two 20mm gun pods beneath the wings. The results were both impressive and depressing at the same time. On one hand, the increased fire power was awesome - a well aimed 'tap' on the trigger was an instant kill. On the other, the added gun pods were not unlike a Porsche owner entering a road race while towing a boat; the increased drag and weight of the guns turned the 109 into a clumsy truck.

Beacause of these encumbrances, many fighter pilots didn't like the G-6/R6. Except for Kossi. He chose to embrace the airplane's tremendous power, giving Four Six One the affectionate nickname of, "Cannon Battery."

You must remember that most of the great aces in WW2 were stalkers, not brawlers. They became experts in get-in-get-out tactics, relying on speed and marksmanship. Twirling duels in the sky were dramatic, but could also be wasteful of physical energy, fuel and ammo. Kossi was not in the service to perform aerobatics but to defend Finland from invaders. All he really wanted was that precise moment in time and space where the enemy would cross paths with a few well-placed cannon shells and...

Boom!

At the risk of showing my embarrassingly poor physics acumen, the kinetic energy of a pound of explosive shells, traveling at 2,500 feet per second and hitting a thin-skinned airplane is, well, lethal. Kossi was a brilliant shot. Of course, he had to be. - the tradeoff of maneuverability for firepower gave a well-flown "R6" only a momentary advantage.

In the end, though my "artistic" skills were raised, my appreciation for Finland was rather more so. In learning about Kossi, I was reminded of how important the individual can be in shaping reality for many. This blog post will undoubtedly get shared among many Finns who will read of a countryman who rose to the occasion of Service and Country. That, is a good thing.

Anyone, everywhere, owes their lot -in part- to individuals. To those in poverty and ruin, to fools. To those living in peace and prosperity, to heroes.

I'm pleased to add Kossi to my list of heroes.

Oh - some sketches I made of Finnish Brewster, 109 and Hawk 75 planes.


And a sketch of MT-461 in flight - it looks like I tried to give it that "chopped roof" effect that hot-rodders do to their cars! (laughs)



*32 confirmed, but possibly more than 42, based on post-war Soviet archive searches.
**8 victories in MT-461 are confirmed, but with the addition of unconfirmed victories, it may be 16.
***The Finns took their unloved Brewsters and made Mad Max-like modifications, boosting the airplane's survivability. But, there's no motivation quite like fighting for sheer survival and I'm sure that played heavily into the Finn's success with the airplane.