Brief overview of the Soviet Union’s role in World War 2
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.
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, 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.
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.
Tactical Evolution and Enhanced Combat Formations
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.
Types of Soviet Aircraft
The Soviet Union used a wide variety of aircraft in World War 2, which were critical to its military activities. These aircraft, which differed greatly in terms of their capabilities, intended use, and design, made a vital contribution to the Soviet war effort on the Eastern Front. The primary Soviet aircraft types utilized during the battle are listed here:
Yakovlev Yak Series: During World War 2, the Yak fighters were some of the most well-known Soviet aircraft. In particular, the Yak-1, Yak-3, and Yak-9 types stood out for their precision and potency in air-to-air combat. Their main functions were to engage German fighters and shield ground troops from the air.
Lavochkin La Series: Designed to oppose the German aircraft with superior technology, the LaGG-3, La-5, and La-7 fighters were designed. These fighters were considered to be strong opponents in dogfights because of their strength and potent weaponry.
The Petlyakov Pe-2 was a fast and responsive dive bomber that served in a variety of tasks, including level bombing, ground attack, and surveillance. Because of its adaptability, it was a great asset to the Soviet Air Force.
Ground Attack Aircraft
Sturmovik Ilyushin Il-2: The Il-2, sometimes known as the “Flying Tank,” was a heavily armored ground-attack aircraft. It was critical in assisting Soviet ground forces, notably in tank conflicts. The Il-2 was known for its toughness and firepower, with the capacity to survive severe damage while delivering deadly assaults on opposing positions.
Reconnaissance and Transport Aircraft
Polikarpov Po-2: Originally intended for training, the Po-2 was extensively deployed for night bombing, reconnaissance, and liaison operations. Its simplicity and dependability made it a standard in a variety of supporting roles.
The Lisunov Li-2 was a transport and freight aircraft constructed under license from the American Douglas DC-3. It was critical for transporting troops, supplies, and equipment, particularly over the enormous expanses of the Eastern Front.
Specialized and Experimental Aircraft
Experimental Jets and Rockets: While not widely used, the Soviet Union experimented with jet and rocket technology during the war, such as the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-1 and the BI-1 rocket plane. These were mostly in the early stages of development and saw little action.
The variety of Soviet aircraft in World War II reflects the Soviet military’s different demands and strategies. Each aircraft type, from tough ground assault planes like the Il-2 Sturmovik to adaptable fighters like the Yak series, played an important role in shaping the aerial aspect of the Eastern Front. Their significance is not just in terms of combat effectiveness, but also in terms of post-war aircraft development.
The development and deployment of the Soviet Union’s aircraft not only demonstrates its scientific prowess during a period of severe global turbulence, but also emphasizes the strategic relevance of air power in modern combat. The lessons learned and technological advances made during this time period prepared the path for future innovations in military aircraft design and tactics.
The Soviet aircraft of WWII are outstanding displays of engineering, strategy, and valor. Their story is an important part of the war’s larger narrative, and it continues to captivate and educate on the unstoppable advancement of military technology and the undying spirit of those who take to the skies in defense of their nations.