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Ron Bleac

Immola Airfield: 1942

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From my grandfather's selected memoirs. He was stationed at Immola Airfield after being wounded for a second time. After a short recovery in hospital he was placed into a "homeguard" (read: active military but behind the lines) unit to guard vital rear areas such as Immola airfield, from which a large quantity of fighter aircraft were based. He was never part of the air force, but participated in reloading machine guns and in small maintenance duties such as repainting aircraft. He spent a short time in the area, after which he was transferred forward back to the front when manpower supply became low. He went on to be wounded lightly for a third time before the war ended.

Early June, 1942.

It was quite a grimy and rainy morning on this Thursday. It was the 4th, Mannerheim's birthday. I was doing my usual five hour stint in front of "The Tower," a small three story brick building hastily constructed to serve as a temporary radio shack. While most people didn't enjoy mind boggling boredom for five hours, I found sentry duty was an excellent place to write down my thoughts and thus volunteered for it whenever possible. I was the reclusive type of guy. There had been no reports of enemy activity so far, possibly due to the slight fog. No aircraft were taking off and all was calm. I fiddled around with a single round from my rifle and pocketed it. But suddenly there was a stir, men running back and forth with rifles shouldered. Yet there was no alarm. I looked about and noted a small black car drive onto the field. Another one followed it close in tow and all of the individuals in the vehicles disembarked.

One of them was very tall, well dressed and in military uniform while the other in a long, dark trencher. The others that followed in tow were also in military uniform. They began walking in my direction on a forest trail and made their way close to the runway, walking right past me in the process. It was at this point that I noted the facial features of the tallest one. I felt my legs, chest and spine instantaneously stiffen as I snapped into attention instinctively.

The men in question were no other than Marshal Mannerheim, the commander in chief of the Finnish Military and President Risto Ryti. Mr. Ryti seemed to pay little attention to me but the Marshal waved at me slightly as he passed by, never losing composure or the pace of his stride. I came out of attention and waved back, then remained on post as much as I would have liked to speak to him face to face. While I generally paid very little attention to politics, one could call it a special circumstance since we were at war after all. Mannerheim had always been a very interesting character and while I wouldn't call it a dream, I would've liked to sit down and talk to him about the soldierly sort of things. While I was disinterested in Ryti, I found a lot of respect for the man for his ability to do such a tough job in wartime. Five minutes later Mannerheim left, we didn't know where.

It was around 10 AM to my recollection when I was summoned over to my company's position on the West side of the field. In the tent and barrack building I discovered a large group of men, about 50 or so. Some of them were not part of my unit. I placed my rifle in the rack beside the door and walked in, still wearing my helmet. After a short conversation we were informed that a special guest would be arriving and my company was selected to act as the honor Guard while the others would form a three rank line around the airfield in perfect concealment, acting as security. All anti-aircraft guns in the area were to be towed outside of the field to form a flak triangle, just in case. We were told how to address our guest properly and reminded that if we hadn't taken German in high school or had not been there, we should speak in Finnish. It would be translated. In the next twenty minutes or so we inspected our uniforms, shined our boots the best we could and cleaned our rifles, deammoed them and refreshed on procedure. In fact, we were still doing so on our way out of the door. Nobody was quite sure on what to do.

As we stepped out of the building in a two rank file we noted a large amount of individuals gathering at the center of the field and after a double-quick march to their location, formed a three rank line abreast to the side of the runway and the hangar. The black car with Ryti was at the end of the runway, protected by a small troop of infantry. We waited for what seemed like an increasingly long period of time until finally at around 11:25 we heard engines. A very large plane indeed. It circled above to lose altitude, then finally, out from above the tree tops roared a Focke Wulf Condor in full German regalia, all four engines at full power. The black Swastika was visible on the tail of the plane as it came in for landing, screeching onto the tarmac at what we thought was an amazing landing. None of us spoke about it, though. This large plane aroused a certain amount of curiosity and a little bit of intimidation as it rolled towards the hangar. We noted a small plume of smoke rising from the right front wheel but paid no mind to it as it didn't seem to catch flame. I scanned to the left, then to the right and saw the black car driving towards the hangar. It parked to our right and the passengers disembarked again, this time standing to our right side and to the front. The door of the ominous Condor swung open and extendable stairs were lowered by the crew at which point a cameraman stepped out. Behind him were two German officers of rank I didn't recognize and a third man in a coat. We snapped into attention without command again. As the third man came down the steps I noted his posture. He was leaning forward slightly with his right hand on the railing for the faintest of moments. His stride was rather short but quick. Overall, he was a rather quirky looking old man.

My eyes darted back and forth to the man himself and his entourage. A couple of more steps towards my direction and my mind worked out his identity. The black toothbrush moustache under his nose was a dead give away. He walked towards us and Ryti and delivered a quick salute, addressing President Ryti personally. They exchanged a handshake and moved towards us, at which point Herr Hitler inspected our formation. I was the fourth from the left in the front rank and as Hitler moved in from the right, he stared each of us in the eye and gave every one of us a pat on the shoulder and a quick, non-formal handshake. He was clearly interested in us and asked short questions.

He addressed me in German and spoke somewhat slowly in a very low tone of voice, "Corporal, how very nice of you to be here today." For once, high school German served me well. "Thank you, sir." To this he smirked and asked me about my rifle, the Finnish Mosin Nagant M/39: "A simple design. How do you feel about it?"

After considering my options I piped up again, "Simplicity comes with its advantages." To this he nodded in what seemed like agreement and moved on to the man next to me, who he questioned about his personal life. He asked questions such as "How old are you," "Do you have someone at home," and about political beliefs. To his surprise he found that most of the men present weren't all that interested in politics. Later on I heard he had found this impressive but dangerous.

The most surprising thing of all was that he had taken the time to study rank structure and greeted us by our ranks. All in all, he spent around 20 minutes with us before moving on with Ryti. They weren't taken far, to a nearby railroad where Mannerheim was waiting in a dining train car with a full entourage of junior officers.

I spent the rest of the day at the airfield and roughly five hours later, after dining with Mannerheim and Ryti he was scheduled to board the Condor again. We were there in full formation and he said goodbye to us, going through us to shake the hands of every soldier. He addressed each one of us and had a short conversation before departing. He spoke to me again: "I spoke to your officers outside the dining train car, they told me about you and your friends. I wish you a speedy recovery." He said, shaking my hand again. I thanked him and nodded repeatedly. His handshake was tight and full of confidence, yet short. Less than half an hour later he boarded the Condor, but remained at the door. He stood there until the last of his entourage had boarded and as the door was closed took his window seat behind the exit. He stared at us until the engines started at which point his attention was diverted back inside the plane, but he returned to give a quick wave. Three minutes later the Condor was back in the air. This was around 18:45.

After the plane was well over the horizon we returned back to our quarters, most of us falling fast asleep, myself included. The next morning I awoke to find that round of ammunition I pocketed still in my trouser pockets.

Deutsche Wochensau film #614. At 3:59 the company makes its first appearance in the film. 6:48 onwards the "Improv Honor Guard" is visible in the background.

Now here's the most interesting part. During the visit someone snuck a microphone into the dining car and to this day, it is the only known recording of Hitler's "conversation" voice. He discusses the war freely, without raving like the madman he was. It gives a really good idea of his sense of "strategy" politically and military.

[media]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o64QOynq0_Q&feature=related

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It's interesting, most people assumed he had a high pitched, annoying voice, but a lot of reports about him described a low, somewhat hypnotic tone: Very flowing method of speech. The voice he used in his infamous speeches was one he developed to portray and project his voice, at times without the aid of microphones. You can hear similar methods in a lot of public speakers from the age, though generally with less emotional content. Also, he was a lot more rational, at least on the surface, before he started taking large dosages of amphetamines.

At anyrate, it's a bit chilling to think about the proximity people at times came to Hitler. Meeting him face to face, I wonder what I would have seen, knowing what we do 70 some years later.

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