Accident Ilyushin DB-3 ,
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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 218283
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Date:Saturday 6 January 1940
Type:Ilyushin DB-3
Owner/operator:1./6 DBAP Soviet Air Force
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 3
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Location:Heinoja -   Finland
Phase: Combat
Departure airport:
Destination airport:
On 6 January 1940, 6 DBAP was ordered to bomb railway stations and industrial sites in the Finnish cities of Pieksimaki and Kuopio with 36 DB-3. The plan was that, after taking off from Krechevitsy airfield, 11 km NE of Novgorod, they should first take a course to the northwest, then reach the Gulf coast in the area of ​​the Luga Bay, and turn north. In a straight line from the Finnish coast to Kuopio there were 266 km. This meant that the bombers would have to spend about one hour on the way in and another on the way out over densely populated areas of Finland, who had developed a system of aerial surveillance posts. To minimize the time spent on the Finnish territory, another flight path was proposed, passing east of the Lake Ladoga and then turning west, over the mainly sparsely populated forest areas of Karelia, reducing the risk of detection but also the numbers of landmarks for navigation. As so far the Soviet command was not considering the Finnish fight
ers as a serious menace, the first plan was used.

On the morning of 6 January weather conditions - heavy snowfall, clouds at 3000 m - forced the 6 DBAP to change the plan. Since many crews of the regiment had little experience flying in adverse weather conditions, it was decided to send on a mission, only two groups of nine DB-3 each, nine crews of the 1st and 2nd squadrons led by Major Balashov and nine crews of the 1st and 3rd squadrons led by Major V. D. Maystrenko. The later formation took off first from Krechevitsy airfield, and was reduced to 8 aircraft almost immediately after takeoff, one bomber turning back. The other flew over a solid layer of clouds. Perhaps this was the reason that they deviated from the planned route to the west coast and flew between Hamina and Kotka. Shortly after them the formation of Major Balashov took off from Krechevitsy, and crossed the Finnish coast, as planned, between Hamina and Viipuri.

Meanwhile in Finland, four Fokker D-XXI fighters with ski undercarrige of 4./LLev 24 had been sent to the Utti air base, after Finnish intelligence had intercepted during the first days of the year radio messages from Soviet weather recce aircraft flying over Jyväskylä and Kuopio. That morning, luutnantti Per-Erik Sovelius of this detachement took off from Lappeenranta airfield with the Fokker D.XXI FR-92, that had been flown here from Utti the night before for periodic maintenance. He climed to 1000 m and headed for Utti, but soon received a radio message about the appearance of Soviet aircraft that were off the coast of the Gulf of Finland near Kotka at an altitude of 3000 meters, heading north. Sovelius climed another 2000 m and saw eight Soviet bombers. Meanwhile, at 0935 hrs, two other fighters of LLev 24 led by vänrikki Erkki Mustonen scrambled from Utti airfield. A third pilot, luutnantti Jorma Kalevi Sarvanto, had also been on duty this morning but was unable to start the eng
ine of his Fokker FR-97.

The formation led by Major Maystrenko was attacked almost simultaneously by the three Finnish fighters, the Mustonen pair attacking the right element while Sovelius targetted the outer aircraft at the far left of the formation, flown by Starshiy Politruk P.I.Gramotkin). The bomber gunner returned fire and eight bullets hit the Fokker, damaging the ammunition system, but Sovelius also hit and silenced the rear turret of the DB-3, then closed at a distance of about 100 meters and set fire to the left engine of the bomber. The burning DB-3 went into a dive and fell at 1010 hrs between the villages of Metso and Kuoppala, about 6 km SE of Utti airfield. The three crew were killed. Sovelius then attacked another bombed of the left element, and claimed to have hit its right engine that began to emit smoke, but then all his weapons either ran out of ammunitions or failed to to damage received during the first pass. Sovelius then broke contact and landed at 1020 hrs at Utti.

The Mustonen pair was less efficent and several times came under concentrated fire of the upper turrets of the DB-3. Having spent all their ammunition without any result, both pilots also returned to Utti, landing at 1045 hrs. At that time the Maystrenko formation went into clouds, which prevented observation ground posts to track its route further.

Between 1005 and 1100 hrs, four other Finnish fighters were sent to intercept these bombers and three others seen between Loviisa and Lahti, but all were unable to locate the ennemy.

At around 1100 hrs the seven remaining bombers of the Maystrenko formation reached Kuopio. The city was hidden by clouds and haze and the Soviet airmen did four passes before dropping some of their bombs. The city reported three fires, five destroyed houses, 30 damaged and one civilian killed – by heart attack. On the way back the Soviet crews released the remains of their bomb load over Pieksimaki, bringing the total of dropped bombs to 78.

Major Maystrenko then decided to go back by the same route by which the group flew to the goal. It is difficult to understand the reasons that prompted him to take this decision, which, as it soon became clear, played a fatal role in the fate of the crews of his group. Perhaps he was afraid of getting lost the forests of Karelia, and hoped that cloudy will not allow Finnish fighters to intercept the group. However, the clouds soon began to dissipate, and the bombers were immediately reported by ground observation posts to Utti airfield.

When the bombers reached Utti, only the Fokker" FR-97 of luutnantti Jorma Sarvanto intercept them. The four Fokkers based in Utti had taken off but Sarvanto’s wingman turned back due to engine trouble and the other pair was some distance behind. However, it turned out that one fighter was sufficient because within four minutes, between 1203 and 1207 hrs, Sarvanto shot down one after the other six DB-3s in the area between Utti and the village of Kymi, 7 km north of Kotka.

At that time the clouds over Utti had disappeared and the sun gleamed from the light bellies of the bombers when Sarvanto saw them. He counted seven of them in close formation, an echelon of three on the left and four almost in a row on the right. He banked to the right and headed south, continuing to climb. For a moment he was in the sights of the nose gunners but had the sun on its back and so was not seen. He reached the altitude of the bombers about 500 metres behind them and started chasing them at full power. Sarvanto select the bomber at the extreme left of the formation, although the bomber third from the left was further behind the others, and its rear gunner was more dangerous, hitting the Fokker at a distance of 300 metres.

Sarvanto opened fore with a short burst on its first target and quickly silenced the bomber’s rear gunner, and then aimed the right engines of both bombers in the formation with more short burst and both DB-3 went down in flames. He then aligned his fighter up with the bombers on the opposite side of the formation. Again he set the engines of one bomber alight, before turning to the next ones in the formation, firing at two of them at very close range and setting them in flames with two or three very short bursts. He then saw the aircraft he had attacked just before diving as a fireball towards the ground.

Having already destroyed five bombers, Sarvanto then set himself the goal of destroying all the three remaining bombers in the formation. The 6th bomber was much tougher than the others to shot down, as Sarvanto’s two wing guns were probably empty by then and he could only use fuselage guns (which were loaded with 600 bullets compared to the 400 in the wing guns). It did, however, finally catch fire and Sarvanto went after the last bomber, whose rear gunner had been silent for some time. So Sarvanto went in very close and aimed at the engine, but then discovered he had not any ammunition left. So he turned back and landed at Utti at 1225 hrs. His Fokker had received 23 hits during the engagement. None were serious, but some of them were near the cockpit, necessitating several weeks’ repairs at the State Aircraft Factory. His six victories enabled Sarvanto to become Finland’s premier ace. He had used in this battle ammunition new to the Finnish, Italian purchased armorpiercing-incendi
ary type. Only two of the 21 crew members of the six lost bombers survived, being both captured.

The sole surviving DB-3, flown by Leytenant Ageyev, was then attacked first by Kersanti Sakari Heikki Ikonen aboard FR-102 but the Finnish pilot used all his ammunition without visible result, firing at a too long range. By this time the two aircraft were already over the Gulf of Finland south of Haapasaari. Luutnantti Per-Erik Sovelius, still flying FR-92, then attacked it and claimed to have fired a long burst from a distance of 300 m, setting on fire the left engine of the DB-3 which began to fall. In fact Ageev deliberately turned his plane into a steep dive to try both to get away from Finnish fighters and extinguish the flames. His maneuver was a success because Sovelius turned back, believing that the job was done. This was confirmed by Finnish coastal aerial observation posts, which reported that a Soviet aircraft fell at 1225 hrs in the sea between Suursaari and Lavansaari. In fact, after diving from a height of 3300 m to 350 m, Ageev leveled the bomber and then was able to
reach safely his airfield. He was the only aircraft of his formation to come back, while the nine bombers led by Major Balashov, having followed the planned route and returned by another path, suffered no losses. Ageev reported that 8 or 9 Finnish fighters had attacked the formation (actually three in the first battle and three in the second) and five were claimed as shot down (actually at least two were hit but none was seriously damaged).

The first three DB-3 shot down by luutnantti Jorma Sarvanto were the three crews of 1./6 DBAP in the formation and all crashed in the same area, on the southern edge of the Haukkasuo swamp. One of them, flown by Leytenant Nikulin, crashed at Heinoja. Two crew were killed but the pilot managed to bail out and ended hanging on a birch tree. However, he was able to come down to earth and walk about 20 km before being captured. When Nikulin was brought in Kouvola, luutnantti Sarvanto and Sovelius met him there.

Leytenant Grigoriy Fadeyevich Nikulin (pilot) POW
Starshii Leytenant Dmitriy Mikhaylovich Dubolazov (navigator)
Mladshiy Komvzvod Stepan Stepanovich Skorobogatyy (radio/air gunner)

The two crew who died were buried in a mass grave in Hirvelä cemetery with 10 other crew of 6 DBAP of three other aircraft shot down by Sarvanto and the three crew of the bomber shot down by Sovelius.

"Osprey Aviation Elite 4: Lentolaivue 24", by Kari Stenman. ISBN 1-84176-262-8

Revision history:

22-Nov-2018 10:13 Laurent Rizzotti Added
02-Jul-2021 10:11 JF Updated [Operator]

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