Airborne Awesomosity

As Essential As Air Or Bread

“They are as essential to the Red Army as air and bread.” – Josef Stalin

With this quote the the Ilyushin IL-2 Sturmovik’s place in WWII was cemented. Produced in higher numbers then any other aircraft of it’s time the IL-2 played an important part in the Great Patriotic War. Feared by the Germans the same way the rest of the world feared the Stuka.

Most people are unaware of the Russian part of World War II. The sheer number of Russian lives lost was staggering. History would show the Germans were correct in their belief that they could conquer Russia quickly with their might. So what were the Germans thinking by standing still for three months?

The decision of the German military to stop because of the Russian winter. For the second time in the war the Germans were mere weeks away from winning a major battle. First was the Battle of Britain when the Germans were unaware they had all but won and backed down. The second was the Russian Front when they stopped and gave the Russians a chance to move their manufacturing behind the Ural mountains.

The IL-2 was born of a time with the Russian Air Force was very out of date. When the Germans invaded the Russians threw everything they had into the air. Most of it wouldn’t have looked out of place in World War 1. If you look at the list of German aces you will some with over 200 or even 300 kills. This is because the Russians just ran a meat grinder with their old equipment.

This ended for two reasons. First was the American equipment that was sent over. Mostly planes we didn’t want ourselves and just gave to the Russians. Planes like the P39 Airacobra which the US Air Force couldn’t find a use for. The Russians swore by them as attack aircraft.

Then there were the new Russian designs such as the IL-2. Planes that served a single purpose and only only one. The Germans and the US Airforce preffered multirole aircraft but the Russian perfected the single role. The IL-2 was a tank buster and it was good at it. With the 37mm upfront it could tear through the back of a Panzer. Something even a Sherman would have issues with.

So sit back and grab your hammer and sickle. The Wings of Russia episode below will tell you more then you ever wanted to know about the Sturmovik and is an interesting watch for aircraft nuts like myself.

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[Ed. This was written by reader fodder650, also known as Wayne Moyer. Pretty interesting stuff, I must say. He does a “Plane of the Week” blurb on Google+. I recommend adding him to a circle if you are hip to the Google social network.]

[Image Credit: Public Domain]

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  • http://www.washington.edu/news/archive/52703 mdharrell

    Perfect timing! I've just started reading this:

    <img src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41R2QPHRH1L._SL500_AA300_.jpg"&gt;

    So far it's proving to be well worthwhile.

    • fodder650

      Oh cool I didn't know there was a book about them. For the rest of you here is what he's reading.

      The Night Witches were Russian female pilots who flew wildly outdated biplanes during the evenings in World War II. They would fly over the German encampments and bomb them with small bombs. There goal was not to kill the soldiers. The goal was to wake them during the night and make them less effective the next day. It's really an interesting idea and it's even more interesting to see that it was even executed successfully.

      The Night Witches also showed the power of the biplane in World War 2. Another good example was the Fairey Swordfish and it's part in the sinking of the Battleship Yamato

      • The Professor

        They used Swordfish on the Yamato? I thought that it was all US aircraft that sank her. The Yamato was headed for Okinawa, correct? There were Brits in on the fight? Do tell…

        • fodder650

          No it was on the Bismarck. For some reason my brain put the Swordfish in the wrong fight. Still most people are unaware of the role those planes played in WWII

          • The Professor

            Ah, ok, I knew about the Swordfish being used in that battle. They were pretty much all the Brits had on their carriers during most of the war, weren't they?

          • fodder650

            Yes they were. If you have Netflix watch the Dogfights "Sink the Bismarck!" episode. If you don't you can see it in 10 minute chunks on Youtube instead. What I remembered was the role the Swordfish played. What this tells you is that the Destroyers really went above and beyond in suicidal ways.
            What Captain looks at the Bismarck knowing that it's 10 times the size of his own ship and can deflect his 5 inch guns and say "EFF IT! Let's do it". Another case of the restrained Brits showing they have steel balls when it comes to defending the empire

          • The Professor

            Yeah, I wondered about what the captains on the Tin Cans were thinking too. Say what you want about the Brits, they'll fight like tea-swilling demons given the chance. Same kind of setup with the Graf Spee too, with destroyers vs a battleship, only a pocket battleship instead of a big daddy.

          • AlexiusG55

            Sinking big ships with small ones has been a British tradition since the defeat of the Spanish Armada. For example, in 1797 the British frigates Indefatigable and Amazon sank the French ship-of-the-line Droits de l'Homme by driving it ashore in a storm.

            And on a more modern note, in 1940 the tiny British destroyer Glowworm took on a German heavy cruiser at close range and eventually rammed it! The captain of Glowworm received a posthumous Victoria Cross on the recommendation of the German commander…

          • The Professor

            Scary dudes. I'm glad that we don't fight against them anymore, at least with the military.

          • Number_Six

            Funny thing about the Swordfish: a new monoplane was produced to replace it but ended up becoming a trainer for Swordfish crews because it wasn't as effective in service.

            The Spitfire and Hurricane were adapted for carrier service and from late 1943 the RN also had Hellcats and Corsairs, so they weren't as badly off as you imply.

          • The Professor

            Oh, I'm not picking on our Limey brethren (or sistren), I was just sitting here thinking about the Bismarck battle, and trying to remember what other carrier aircraft that they used, and I couldn't think of any. If you think about the 10 zillion documentaries about WWII, I can't remember any that show British carrier actions in the latter years of the war. Can you? I ask out of genuine curiosity.

          • fodder650

            I wonder if one of the Battle 360 episodes might have features a Brit carrier. Since the show focused on the USS Enterprise it shouldnt have run into one in the Pacific but i can't remember completely. Other then that there should be a lot of Brit documentaries that would show it. None come to mind immediately though

          • Number_Six

            All I can think of is the Ark Royal shuttling planes to Malta.

          • P161911

            The are usually set together with the Russian WWII submarine documentaries. Yes, the Russians had a few hundred subs in the war. I don't think I have ever heard anything about their use though.

          • The Professor

            The only stories that I've heard about Soviet subs is the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff hospital ship in January 1945. I seem to recall that the Soviets kept all their sub activity in the Baltic.

          • fodder650

            Even in American service there were examples of the replacements not actually replacing the intended airframe. The one that comes to mind is the SB2C Helldiver. I need to look it up but if I remember right the crews hated the thing and it was never successful. Although I know I have seen one on the air show circuit

          • Number_Six

            That's right. It was supposed to replace the ancient Douglas Dauntless but it was horrible to fly and early examples suffered airframe failures.

          • texlenin

            The Stringbag! It gained notoriety during the attack on the Italian
            fleet at Taranto, which proved to Yamamoto that his theories were
            correct. Bad news for us.
            The British were instrumental in figuring out how to land the
            Corsair on carriers, which had kept them landlocked till, what?
            late 43?
            And they gave us Stephen Fry & Brian Blessed.

          • fodder650

            Well the Corsair had the pilot so far back that he couldn't see to land. Especially considering that it was a tail dragger. I'm not sure what the British figured out other then maybe crabbing the landing (sliding the plane down at an angle to be able to see the ship).
            But the Corsair flew on carriers in Korea so something must have been worked out

          • texlenin

            Our boys were coming straight in and
            bouncing alot, ruining decks and props.
            Our dear cousins across the pond figured
            out that if you modified the approach to
            a long sweeping curve, usually left wing
            down, with the apex at the rear o' the deck,
            you could see the approach for alot longer
            and be better set up for the three wire. Nose
            up slightly, drop full flaps, then chop power.
            Bang on, old chap!

  • fodder650

    Thanks for posting this but I can see edits I need to make. I never feel like I finished writing something.

    Ok here are my plane of the day posts I made over at Google+ https://plus.google.com/s/%23planeoftheday

    Ever since the age of 14 when I looked up and saw a P3 Orion and C130 Hercules circling Willow Grove Naval Air Station I knew what the first love of my life would be. Although that 14 year old didnt commit as hard as he should have to actually flying the damned things.
    So using constant servings of Discovery Wings and a lot of books given to me by an Uncle in the defense industry I learned and learned. In my skull is so much pointless information as to make Alec Trebek cry for a couple years. So in the early days of Google+ i decided it needed content and created these little plane posts.
    I've also covered some rather odd military post war stuff there as well but I'm hoping to have that posted here as well.

    • pj134

      Yeah, Willow Grove had an effect on plane lovers all over SE PA. Too bad it's gone now. It was weird the first time I drove by without the Super Stallion out front. The only time I get to see military aircraft anymore is when I'm in the city and a flock of Boeings fly overhead.

      • fodder650

        As far as I know they still don't have plans for the airbase. They were going to turn it into an airport but that got shot down for traffic reasons. Oddly you can find barracks that look recently painted on base. Although places like the PX aren't being taken care of.

        Where the gate guards were is now a small aircraft museum. It includes a couple of the planes that were display like the Sea Dart but the ME-262 got sent down to Florida. If your in the area make sure you stop by it.

        edit – Apparently there was some movement on the reuse of the base. I need to look into what plan "d" http://wingsoffreedommuseum.org/index.php?option=

        My pictures of the air museum are here – https://picasaweb.google.com/10988323514011100981
        Their website is http://wingsoffreedommuseum.org/
        <img src="https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-5Kr8xYx7Kh8/TpDnEUWy93I/AAAAAAAAJL4/YerJITq_NTE/s1024/DSC_0747.JPG&quot; width="600">

        • pj134

          Yeah, I live in take 611 frequently and have been watching the slow decay. It's when something enormous flies away that it gets shocking. I had been wondering where the 262 went, that's too bad.

          • fodder650

            Do you see the Museum building? It was built to house the 262 but the plane was sent to Pensecola, Florida by the Navy. I'm glad we got to keep the Sea Dart got to stay. I miss the Zero floatplane though.

            When I lived near the base I spent a lot of time looking at those gate guards. I never imagined they'd leave. What surprises me is that the Museum has no Pitcairn items. Since it was Pitcairn who donated the land for the base and built a bunch of autogyros. If I remember right

          • pj134

            Well, the guard station is still a few feet down the road, just empty. But yeah, the museum is right on the street so I do see it frequently enough. I never realized how rare the sea dart was until it was brought up here a while back. The museum really needs an A10 if it's going to stay on that base.

          • fodder650

            I'm not sure you are as old as me so I'm going to show my age.
            When i first moved in near the station they had O-37 Supertweets, Harriers, and the occasional F106 would show up. We had a C5 fly into the base for the air show (which i attended as a Sea Cadet, man Im old) and it almost didn't make that landing. The landing strip was JUST long enough.
            They had F18's and the occasional F14. The F14's were being upgraded at the Jonestown (think i got that name right) research center a coupe miles away. Being re-engined into F14A+'s (later to become F14D's because A+ sounds bad). I remember calling the tower to find out when the F14 was leaving. The advantage of having a Master Chief Petty Officer as a neighbor.
            Really it's the O-37 Supertweet that shows the years I was there. I also think that its one of the planes that should be on display. But you are right the A10's flew out of there quiet often

          • pj134

            For me, it was seeing occasional C130's. I would see a few A10's overhead near daily. Yeah, I was 11 when when that museum was built, so I'm a wee bit younger. The supertwee would go very well also.

    • The Professor

      That was quite interesting. I've read enough about the war in the USSR during WWII to know that the cost on the Soviet people was horrendous, especially with both Hitler and Stalin killing them as fast as they could.
      The Russian documentary is excellent. I had no idea of the number of different aircraft that the Soviets made and their long learning curve. The narrator has an odd accent though, he sounds Danish.
      Good work. Pipe some more of your stuff over here, we love this kind of thing.

      • fodder650

        My guess is that he's Finnish. Since that gives you a Russian sounded person without being a full Russian. That series, for what it's worth, is Wings of Russia. Which is different then our "Wings of the Red Star" which was Discovery America's series about Russian aircraft. It ended up spending more time telling local history then talk about the aircraft.

        Wings of Russia is truly Discovery Wings for the local Russian market. It's oddly fascinating to watch. It covers a lot of aircraft that I never had exposure to outside of my 85-86 Janes All the Worlds Aircraft.

        Also if you are into watching this sort of thing let me give you the Youtube search for Great Planes. Which was the export name of our Discovery Wings show. They are almost all up on Youtube in long format so that you won't have to watch 10 minutes at a time. http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Great

        • The Professor

          Cool! Thanks.

        • TurboBrick

          No, that guy is Russian, you can hear it when he's reading years. Much too nasal for a Finn and not enough pressure on the T's.

    • Deartháir

      I can't even count how many times I went back through emails, saying to myself, "Who the hell was it that offered to do a 'plane of the week' article?"

      You're still welcome aboard if you want a spot, but send me a nice big email that's easy for me to spot so I don't lose you again.

      Perhaps utilize some <BLINK> tags.

      • fodder650

        I'll send the email tonight

  • craigsu

    I always wondered if the Il-2 was a reverse-engineered Me 109 with a rear gunner added. Apparently it was more like the Ju 87 in terms of its application though not similar in design (excepting its armor plating).

    • The Professor

      They were saying in the documentary that the IL-2 wasn't armor plated, but that the front half of the plane was an armored tub-like affair that was part of the airframe. Really rugged construction, bit it took them a while to get it sorted out.

      • fodder650

        I can check but I thought the front of the IL2's cockpit was armored to deflect rifle sized rounds.

        • highmileage_v1

          I can attest that the forward belly of the IL2 is sheathed with heavy plate. I was lucky enough to find one in a museum park in Moscow and crawled all over it for an hour or so. They also had a Me-109G that is in reasonable shape.

          • The Professor

            Lucky!

        • The Professor

          I was just parroting what I heard from the documentary, not really know anything about the aircraft or what it takes to build an armored craft like that. It's nice to be able find out what some the gritty details are, and it makes perfect sense that plate would have to be added in sections rather than a monolithic casting. My main point was that I think that the IL-2 wasn't just an airframe with armor plating bolted onto it (or riveted, whatever), rather that the armor was integral to the airframe, which was a new approach at the time (I think). If I've got it wrong, straighten me out, please.

          • highmileage_v1

            You have it right. It was '97 I think when I was in Moscow so my memory is a little foggy. I probably shouldn't have used the term "plate" to describe the IL2 forward lower fuselage. The construction certainly wasn't the typical thin aluminum skin with bulkheads and stringers. If I were to guess I would say the belly skin was at least 5mm-10mm thick and shaped, not flat plate. Rolled sheet maybe? Not cast I think.

    • TurboBrick

      The first version didn't have a rear gunner, and thusly it was quite vulnerable. So they decided to add a single 12.7mm machine gun and a rear seat. Except that the seat was more like a sling and it didn't adequate protection for the rear gunner, and I'm not sure if they even bothered with a seat belt. The second series of production finally had a canopy for the rear gunner, but the gunners themselves were still quite vulnerable and had awful casualty rates until the late 1944 production model came out.

      EDIT…and that was probably all covered in the documentary if I had time to watch it..

  • fodder650

    Look your "The Professor" you were just going by what the books told you :) You were correct that the A10 and the IL2 were both built with integral armor. That it was part of the aircraft instead of an afterthought

  • texlenin

    There will always be a need for slowish, weed-cuttin'
    ground support airframes that can stay on station
    for hours and haul dumptruck loads of ordinance
    from rough, undeveloped front line strips. Shame
    there were never successors to the A20 Marauder
    and the SkyRaider. Our boys could use 'em.

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