Friday, August 28, 2015

Soviet WWII Ground Attack Plane Found with Crew in Poland

Poland is full of treasure hunters and the like these days, hunting down lost gold trains and whatever else they can find. California isn't the only place experiencing a drought in 2015, and this has opened up a window to the past. Poland has seen river levels fall to levels not seen in hundreds of years, lower than any level seen since measurements began in the late 18th Century. That has led to many war remains being uncovered, especially from World War II. Recently, a Soviet bomber was exposed, and recovery efforts are well under way.

The bomber apparently is a Petlyakov Pe-2. Finds like this are terrific for bringing obscure (to western readers) warcraft a brief moment in the spotlight. The two crew members (as yet unidentified) were still inside, wearing their uniforms and with their personal items. They have been removed for burial in Russia. All writing in the plane is in Cyrillic. The wreckage is located in a mucky swamp near the village of Kamion in central Poland. Recoverable pieces have been moved to a museum in nearby Wyszogrod

Locals have known about the plane since the war. It fell into the Bzura, which was a key defensive line during the Wehrmacht retreat in January 1945. It also was the scene of perhaps the largest battle of the German invasion in 1939, but the Soviet plane obviously isn't from that earlier period. The pilots were brave men participating in the 12 January 1945 Vistula-Oder Offensive of the 1st Belorussian Front, led by Marshal Zhukov, and the 1st Ukrainian Front, led by Ivan Konev. It chased the Germans completely out of Poland and set up the final capture of Berlin.

Parts of Soviet uniforms, a parachute, a sheepskin coat collar, parts of boots, a pilot's personal TT pistol and radio equipment were found, along with a lot of heavy ammunition. The ammunition was from 1943, but eyewitness accounts and the fact that the crew were wearing heavy winter clothing suggest that the plane is from January 1945. The witnesses said the plane was hit while flying low and plunged through the ice.

The plane itself, a twin-engine ground attack plane, was designed by Vladimir Petlyakov while in prison for being associated with the disastrous Tupolev ANT-42 bomber. He first designed it as a long-range escort fighter, designated VI-100, but "the boss" ordered an immediate re-design as a ground attack plane. Stalin wanted it ready for the May Day parade that year, and since Petlyakov had only 45 days for this, so he brought in 45 fellow designers to his Gulag and they all worked around the clock to complete the project. They later watched the plane at the ceremonies from the Gulag.

The bomb load was 1000 kg. The initial designation was PB-100, but Stalin was pleased and allowed Petlyakov's name to be used, a huge honor - especially for someone in prison. It was in service from 1941-1945 and is one of the less-remembered aircraft of the conflict. Stalin liked the design enough to spring Petlyakov from his jail cell. The Germans captured half a dozen Pe-2s and gave them to the Finnish Air Force, who used them against their former Soviet owners until late in the war.


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