Stalin’s “Essential Aircraft” – The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik
Barely known in the West, the Il-2 Shturmovik played an essential role in defeating the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
(Video) IL-2:Battle of Stalingrad. IL-2, The Flying Tank.
Music tracks: Evil March by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…)
Electro Sketch by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…)
Not only was the Il-2 the most-produced combat aircraft of World War II, it is also the second most-produced aircraft ever, exceeded only by the Cessna 172. But today, only about a dozen Il-2s are in existence – their scarcity bearing witness to the savage brutality of the war on the Eastern front.
When the Nazi Army attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Soviet government was thrown into confusion and disbelief; they had not anticipated or actively prepared for this act. At the time of the attack, the Soviet Air Force was undergoing a major modernization program to upgrade its capabilities with a variety of new warplanes.
But delivery and integration of these new aircraft into the Air Force was slow; and only a small number of the new bomber, fighter, and attack aircraft had made it to front-line air force units. One of the most important of these new types was the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik, a rugged single-engine ground attack aircraft. Its origins date back to the mid-1930s, when Soviet military specialists realized that the country needed a dedicated aircraft with dive-bombing capabilities, capable of independently attacking and disabling enemy ground forces and targets, including tanks and other armored vehicles.
In early 1938, Sergei Ilyushin, head of the legendary Ilyushin aircraft design bureau, suggested to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin the idea of a “flying tank,” and asked that his bureau be allowed to design and construct such an aircraft.
Somewhat unusually for the normal Soviet aircraft acquisition process, there was no design competition or request for proposals from other Soviet aircraft design bureaus. Ilyushin’s idea was approved, and two prototype Il-2s were ordered, with the first flying in October 1939. Originally conceived as a two-seater, the Il-2 was redesigned as a single-seater to achieve better flying characteristics.
(Video) Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik Soviet WW2 ground-attack aircraft (In Russian)
After an Il-2 pilot wrote directly to Stalin, suggesting that a gunner behind the pilot was needed to fend-off Nazi fighters seeking to shoot-down the aircraft, the Il-2 was designed as a two-seater once again. Following successful flight tests, the type was ordered into production. About 249 Il-2s were built by the time Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. But of these, a mere 70 were actually in service at that time. Even worse: Only 20 of them were in service with the frontier military districts.
Their pilots had only undergone a minimum training, and operational air tactics that ultimately would made the Il-2 so successful were not in existence yet. Indeed, the Il-2’s combat initiation came on June 27, 1941, just five days after Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, when five Il-2s attacked a German convoy of tanks and mechanized infantry.
To achieve the IL-2’s full potential, production needed to be sharply ramped up. This was not an easy task, since the German invasion had dislocated most of the production facilities. Stalin did not conceal his rage at this disruption of production. In a telegram to the directors of one of the troubled Il-2 plants, he wrote, “You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture Il-2s until now. Our Red Army now needs Il-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. (This plant) now produces one Il-2 a day….It is a mockery of the Red Army….I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more Il-2s. This is my final warning. Stalin.” Not surprisingly, Il-2 production increased sharply within weeks.
Over the course of the war, a total of between 31,000 and about 36,000 Il-2s were to be produced — more than any other combat aircraft in WWII.
The Il-2 was anything but advanced in its mixed wood-and-metal construction, which was relatively easy to manufacture in significant numbers using relatively unskilled workers. But for an aircraft, it was an amazing achievement. Among the Shturmovik’s most important assets were its strength and robustness in combat. The forward fuselage section — protecting the aircraft’s fuel system, radiators and crew station — was built entirely of armor plate.
Thus, the Il-2 could, and often did, absorb extraordinary battle damage and survive to fight another day. The protective armor shell employed a special alloy developed for the Il-2; its thickness varied by location on the airframe. Special consideration had been given to a technology that would allow maintenance personnel to stamp the armor steel in the field, thus providing flexibility in the design, especially when Soviet units were forced to operate from primitive forward battle areas.
A number of Il-2 pilots became highly successful. Among them were also women, like Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorowa who flew 243 missions in Il-2 and received the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union in late 1944, after she was taken prisoner by the German troops. Lieutenant Colonel Nelson Stepayan, according to Soviet sources, apparently shot down or destroyed in 239 combat sorties no less than 53 ships, 80 tanks, 600 armored vehicles and 27 aircraft. In December 1944, when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and he was seriously wounded, Stepanyan steered his plane into a German warship and sank it.
Squadron commander Leonid Beda, decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union, made more than 100 combat sorties in an Il-2. In Famous Russian Aircraft, he describes how he led a group of Il-2s supporting Soviet ground troops assaulting Sapun Hill, in a crucial area near Sevastopol at the Crimea. Flying 6-9 meters (20-30 feet) above the ground, they masked their approach in the valleys surrounding the German gun emplacements on the hill, and were able to inflict considerable damage. To facilitate their escape, Beda and his group took refuge in the valleys again, flying extremely low. Later, Beda and his fellow Il-2 pilots participated in strafing attacks on German vessels in Sevastopol’s bays and against German airbases nearby. Despite the presence of significant anti-aircraft artillery, Beda and his squadron mates succeeded in sinking several ships in the harbor and destroying a number of German aircraft.
(Video) Il 2 Shturmovik – WWII’s Flying Tank
For a full write-up on this aircraft, visit http://allthingsaero.com/general-avia…
Lack of available Russian fighter protection, however, for the vulnerable and slow-moving Il-2s often led to severe losses in combat. In the spring and summer of 1942, for example, Il-2s were being lost at the very high rate of one for every 24 combat sorties; during the Battle of Stalingrad, that ratio increased to one aircraft per 10-12 combat missions. Luftwaffe fighters and anti-aircraft units claimed 6,900 victories over Il-2s in 1943, and 7,300 in 1944. These numbers might be exaggerated, but on the other hand, the Soviet numbers of losses might not be correct either: According to Soviet records, the total wartime Il-2 losses amounted to nearly 11,570 aircraft, or about 30 percent of the Soviet Union’s total combat aircraft losses.
Nevertheless, by the end of World War II, the Il-2 was widely regarded as one of the best and most effective weapons deployed by the Soviet forces. Oleg Rastrenin, a highly regarded expert on Soviet airpower, notes that, during World War II, “it was precisely the Il-2 that was the most useful aircraft for our infantry and the aircraft most feared by the German infantry.” According to Rastrenin, at the beginning of the war, Il-2s comprised less than 0.2% of the inventory of the Soviet Air Force. But soon this number rose, and stayed at about 30% of all Soviet combat tactical aircraft for the duration of the war.
Now, let’s end with a famous Russian War (Folk) Song..
(Vide0) Katusha from Almaty, Kazakhstan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHjef…
A Russian folk song… a war song that was sung during wwii. Soviet Union. video dedicated to the Russian soldiers. Some footage is from WWI but most is from WWII.
Apple and pear trees were a-blooming,
Mist (was) creeping on the river.
Katyusha set out on the banks,
On the steep and lofty bank.
She was walking, singing a song
About a grey steppe eagle,
About her true love,
Whose letters she was keeping.
Oh you song! Little song of a maiden,
Head for the bright sun.
And reach for the soldier on the far-away border
Along with greetings from Katyusha.
Let him remember an ordinary girl,
And hear how she sings,
Let him preserve the Motherland,
Same as Katyusha preserves their love.
For World War II, the Ilyushin Il-2 is an iconic aircraft, as iconic as the T-34 tank or the Katyusha rocket system – an aircraft that contributed significantly to the Allied victory in World War II.
And whilst we are still on the topic of fantastic warbirds, why not click one numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 to read all the previous Warbird series stories!