Soviet Aircraft in World War 2

Before the 1917 Revolution, Soviet aircraft literally did not exist since the Union of Soviet Republics itself did not exist. Warplanes from that region of the world were mostly russian aircraft.

In the year 1923 the Soviet air force came properly into existence. While the Soviet Union had air squadrons before this, and while each squadron would remain under the authority of its local ground commander, all air units began reporting to a Chief Directorate of the Air Force of the Red Army. By 1928, after continued military re-organization, complete control of the Soviet air force fell to this Directorate.

Before World War II, the Soviet Union sent aircraft and other aid to the Republican side of the Spanish civil war. Between October, 1936 and December, 1948 they supplied 1,409 soviet aircraft – mostly I-15 and I-16 Polikarpovs – along with pilots and instructors. These planes were outclassed by the Messerschmitt Bf-109’s used by the German-supported Nationalists and so 1,176 of the soviet aircraft were destroyed in battle. Seventeen Soviet pilots were deemed Heroes of the Soviet Union for their conduct in the civil war.

russian aircraft
A Soviet Union aircraft manufacture in 1942

Soviet losses in the Spanish civil war led them to focus more on developing ground-attack and close support airframes. This doctrine is best exemplified by the famous Il-2 Shturmovik, a low-altitude, heavily armed and armoured tankbuster soviet aircraft dubbed Der Schwarze Tod (The Black Death) by German forces.

In July of 1940, under a year before Germany attacked, the Soviet Union began a further re-organization of its forces. Squadrons that formerly had 20-30 planes were put together to form 60 plane regiments. Three to five of these regiments formed an air division. Along with this change was it was planned to upgrade existing planes in the force to their newest models. Progress was slow with the re-organization and the upgrades however, and by June 22, 1941 when Germany invaded, the process was only 20% completed.

A Yak-7b during the winter of 1943

In the first two days of the invasion Germany destroyed 2,500 Soviet aircraft. Many were destroyed on the ground. Others were destroyed by poor tactics. Soviet bomber wings tried to attack without fighter escort. When threatened, bombers formed tight wedges and fighters formed defensive circles.

In April 1942, Lieutenant General Alexander Novikov took command of the Red Army Air Force. He ordered that all air power be consolidated, from the individual ground units to which it was connected, into one unified force. It was around this time as well that the factories that were moved east of the Ural Mountains began full production, pumping out roughly 1000 planes a month.

This reconstitution and increased production made the Soviet air force formidable again but so did tactical advancement. “Loose pairs” began to prevail over standard formations with planes working in tandem, or one plane covering while the other attacked. Bombers began to be escorted. Four bombers would be escorted by up to ten fighters. When fighters escorted ground attack craft they split into two groups. A group that flew with the formation and a group that flew high above and about half a mile (800M) ahead to scout for enemy patrols.

By 1945 the Red Army Air Force had 17 air armies each with 2 fighter divisions, 2 fighter-bomber divisions, a night bomber regiment, a reconnaissance squadron and a liaison squadron.

Ilyushin Il 2 Shturmovik

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Ilyushin IL-4

soviet aircraft

Lavochkin LaGG-3

soviet aircraft

Lavochkin La 5

Lavochkin La 7

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Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-1 / MiG-3

soviet aircraft

Tupolev SB 2

Yakovlev Yak-1

Yakovlev Yak-1

Yakovlev Yak 3

6 thoughts on “Soviet Aircraft in World War 2

  1. Rob Aldridge

    What no TB-3? What a plane. I dont ever remember seeing a video about them in combat. I feel sorry for those crews, they were just open to slaughter i would think. Ive never been certain why the various air forces took so long to supply fighter cover (think “Murder” Harris at Bomber Command. Would have been better to ask for suicide pilots!), at least partial cover and those definetly needed cover. It would have kept you alert flying 175 mph in an open cockpit at -30 below zero!

  2. joe lychak

    I( find it amazing that we were told the russian winter defeated the Nazis. The major battles were fought in summer. We were led to believe that the weaponry of the USSR was garbage. Never told that German pilots werte ordered not to engage the Yak fighters because they were superior machines. The Katusha rockets caused a terrible smell of soiled German uniforms. The T-34 tank was the best tank of the time. The list goes on and so does the Bull. We were lied to in order that attacking the USSR would not be vigourously opposed.

  3. Wayne Austick

    The Polikarpov 1=16 was a small diminutive fighter aeroplane,excellence in manoeuvrability at low altitude but with not much firepower. However it did destroy a number of Messerschmidtts,but too few to make a difference. At the start of ww2 the Russian air force only had these fighters along with1-15’s. Not until later did the Russians create a more conceivable and more powerful range of fighter aircraft.

    1. Gerald The Brit.

      When the British fitted the Spitfire engine into the American P51 the aircraft came alive, as it had a very poor Allison V12 engine that was not supercharged. After that Roosvelt wanted the details of the technical side of the engine from Rolls Royce and hence Packard made about 16,000 until about 1950.
      What happened when the Americans got the plans was kind of quirky. Stalin heard about the engine plans being given to the Americans and demanded that he also be given the plans as Russia, America, Britain and a few other countries were all signatories to Lend-Lease. Look at the YAK3 and the P51and the Spitfire-their engine compartments are identical. The Yak was the only useful Russian aircraft of WW11.

      Yes all of the German major battles in Russia were in the summer, but, all of the German forces were individually stuck in their own areas and could not advance because of poor planning by Hitler, their supply lines were too long and they started too late in the year. The severity of the sudden Russian winter did the rest.
      That’s all just history.

  4. Jim Canter

    The Russians had some good planes. I have never read anything about their battle accomplishments. Except they dropped more bombs than the American abd British forces combined.

  5. Dascalu Ioan

    If we look at today’s Russia we can see that not even now they don’t seem to care about the air force. Of course, they hava a vast number of projects but they prefer the air defence systems. In return to the subject, in WW2 we can say that Russia wasan’t the biggest threat above the sky (or over the see) but it scores at ground attack forces and I think that is what maked the difference in winning the war.
    P.S: I am Germany’s fan


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