The Flying Tank
|The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik.|
|Luftwaffe pilot Georg Schentke of 9.JG3 and his mates inspecting a downed IL2 Sturmovik that he had just shot down in February 1942.|
|An Il-2 Shturmovik in 1942. Note it is a single-seat version that has not been modified to add a rear gunner.|
Aircraft Designer Sergey IlyushinSergey Ilyushin was born in the village of Dilyalevo, Vologda Governorate Russian Empire (near Saint Petersburg), and was of humble means. At various times he dug ditches, worked in factories, and cleaned guitars. One of his jobs was at the first All-Russia Festival of Ballooning in autumn of 1910, which exposed him to aeronautics. While serving as an infantry conscript in World War I, Ilyushin volunteered for service in the Aviation Section. This led to his qualification as a pilot in mid-1917. During the turbulent early years of the Russian Revolution, he was in and out of the Army and a proud member of the Bolshevik party from October 1918. His communist credentials thus were impeccable, a vital asset in the Soviet Union.
|The prototype TsKB-55.|
Development of the Ilyushin Il-2 ShturmovikThe Soviet Union had a vibrant aircraft industry during the 1920s and 1930s which was assisted by an unlikely source: Germany. During the period of time when the Allied powers barred them from developing military aircraft, the German military secretly worked on military designs within the USSR. Many Luftwaffe pilots were trained at the Lipetsk fighter-pilot school located at what is now known as the Lipetsk Air Base in Lipetsk, Russia. However, the Soviets really didn't need any assistance, they had several brilliant aircraft designers of their own. Sergey Ilyushin was one of them, perhaps the very best.
|The TsKB-57 AM-38 (BSh-2 No 1) during manufacturer's fight tests. October 1940.|
|A crashed one-seat Il-2.|
|German troops with a captured Il-2 Shturmovik.|
The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik During World War IIUsually, new military aircraft are gradually assimilated into an air force over many months. This period is used to figure out how to fly and service the aircraft. The Red Air Force did not have that luxury in mid-1941. Shturmoviks were in action within days of the German invasion against the best Luftwaffe fighters. Their first recorded use was over the Berezina River by the 4th ShAP Ground Attack Regiment. Many pilots had no training in the Il-2 and the ground crews no experience in servicing them, so initial losses were heavy. In their first three days of use, 29 Shturmoviks were lost and 20 pilots killed. The 4th ShAP had lost 55 out of its original establishment of 65 Shturmoviks by 10 July 1941.
|An early single-seat Il-2 converted into a two-seater by cutting an opening on the fuselage.|
|A crude rear gun added to an Il-2 at the front. The gun used in this type of conversion was whatever was handy, usually taken from other "parts" aircraft.|
|Women were active in the Red Air Force. Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova flew over 260 missions, nearly all of them piloting the IL-2. She was awarded the Soviet Union's highest decoration, the Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union medal.|
|This is probably a pre-mission briefing, with an Il-2 Shturmovik in the background.|
- 1942: 1676 lost
- 1943: 3515 lost
- 1944: 3347 lost
|A gunner in an Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik. Note the ring on the plane for moving the gun from side to side.|
|Soviet Ilyushin Il 2s flying in a typical formation over German positions near Moscow. Photo: RIA novosti / CC BY-SA 3.0.|
|Il-2M3 of the 567 ShAP, 16th Army, during the Battle of Berlin in 1945.|
|A late-war Il-2 with its crew.|
ConclusionThe Il-2 Shturmovik was an extremely useful aircraft for the Red Air Force. While outmatched by the top Luftwaffe fighters, it was a match for any Luftwaffe bomber, ground-attack plane, or transport aircraft. It was available in sufficient numbers to withstand horrendous losses while achieving reliable results. The general consensus that the Shturmovik was not a great aircraft is correct, but it did great service for the Soviet Union during its hours of greatest need. Given the paucity of other truly great Red Air Force planes during the conflict, the Il-2 Shturmovik must be reckoned as the most effective aircraft used by the Soviet Union during World War II.