ILYUSHIN IL-2 STURMOVIK
“The IL-2 aircraft are necessary for our Red Army now, like air, like bread“
(he demanded prompt and efficient production from factory officials…or else!)
The Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik was known to the Soviet troops in WW2 as the “Flying Tank” and to the Germans as “Der Schwarze Tod” (“The Black Death“). It was a low level ground attack aircraft, heavily armed (wing mounted 2 x high velocity 23mm cannons, 2 x 7.62mm machine guns, bombs/rockets and a rear firing 12.7mm machine gun for defence. Some later versions were armed with 37mm wing mounted cannons!) and protected by heavy armour plating around the crew, engine and fuel tank. Although always intended as a two seater aircraft, early versions of the IL-2 were actually built as single seaters to save weight (gain better performance) but the vulnerability to attack by fighter aircraft from behind meant that a rear gunners position was added again for further protection.
For the Soviets the Il-2 along with the legendary T-34 tank were probably the most important weapons that helped them win the war against Germany and her Axis allies on the Eastern Front in WW2. Once the Soviets had halted Axis attacks and had them in full retreat from the 1943 Battle of Kursk onwards, vast waves of Sturmoviks would have harried them all the way destroying many tanks, vehicles and infantry formations. By this stage of the war the Germans no longer had the air superiority they had earlier in the war.
The Il-2 would normally attack tanks from the rear where tank armour plating was at it’s weakest and the Il-2’s cannons could puncture the armour and destroy the tanks engine etc. The best known tactic was called the “Circle of Death” where they would attack in a shallow dive from the rear, then circle and repeat the attack (they would often fly as low as 6 metres /20 feet). Although a lethal weapon many were still lost to German fighter aircraft, anti-aircraft fire and from accidents due to the low level and weather they were required to fly-in (I have read estimates of over 10,000 IL-2’s being lost in battle).
The Il-2 was used by the Soviets from 1941 – 1955 and also used by former Warsaw Pact nations Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary an Poland from 1945 to the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. Yugoslavia operated them from 1944-1954 and even Mongolia had a few and operated them from 1945-1954. Over 36,000 Il-2’s were built between 1941-1945 (the most for any military aircraft). There were also later improved variants built called the Il-10 which served with a number of nations from 1944 until the late 1950’s.
The Sturmovik Flying Again
In September 2011 after a 6-7 year rebuild by Retro Avia Tech an Ilyushin Il-2M3 Sturmovik flew again at Novosibirsk, Russia (built from the wrecks of 4 aircraft recovered in Russia). This machine has been restored for Paul Allen’s (Microsoft Co-Founder) Flying Heritage Collection at Paine Field, Everett Washington. It is powered by an Allison engine rather than the rare original Mikulin engine.
According to the FHC website the Il-2M3 is painted to represent the aircraft of twice-awarded Hero of the Soviet Union Air Marshal Alexander Yefimov of the 298th Air Division. By the end of WW2 he had flown 288 combat missions in an Il-2, destroying 126 enemy tanks and shooting down 7 enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat! The Hero of the Soviet Union was the highest distinction one could receive in the USSR for acts of heroism.
The Sturmovik In Washington
The Il-2M3 arrived in Washington recently after a few months at sea being shipped from Russia. I was lucky enough to be at the Flying Heritage Collection on February 10th, 2012 the day they started to put it back together and I got to see this “Beast From The East” get it’s wings back (covered in Russian dust and grime). It even has some bullet holes from WW2!
It was fascinating watching the team from the museum putting the aircraft back together (kind of like a giant model kit). Some old fashioned Russian brute strength and a hammer were required to get the second wing on though! Amazingly in the end only a few well placed bolts keep the wings in place.
This is not the first Il-2 I have seen, there are a few on display in museums around the world particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia, but it has to be the most important one in existence. Even though over 36,000 were built this is currently the only flying Ilyushin Il-2 in the World!
I cannot wait until they get the Sturmovik back in the skies again. It is going to be a major drawcard when they have their regular flying days this summer (Note: in August 2012 I got to see the Sturmovik fly – you can check this out on my Aces Flying High blog by clicking here).