Aviation of World War II

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Junkers in the USSR

Demetrius Sobolev

Familiarization with German know-how in metal aircraft production at the Fili plant facilitated introduction of domestic aircraft made of duralumin into series production. Working with German engineers, our personnel learned new technological procedures for assembly of airborne vehicles and acquired the Western production culture. Some later became top managers of the Soviet aircraft industry.

But, on the whole, the Junkers concession held back the development of an aircraft industry in our country. Hoping that the German specialists would create with the USSR a base for aircraft and engine construction that matched the latest scientific and technological achievements, the Soviet leadership did not devote sufficient attention to the efforts of domestic scientists and aircraft designers. Up to one-third of the funds allocated for USSR aviation development went to Junkers. The Fili plant had a production area occupying 15,000 square meters and was the largest enterprise of its time. More than 1000 workers were employed there by early 1925 compared to just 5114 in the entire Soviet aircraft industry. But, the "mountain gave birth to a mouse". When it was learned that the quality and quantity of the Fili-produced airplanes did not meet Air Forces specifications and engine production was delayed for an uncertain period, our country was forced to spend large sums to buy aircraft abroad. By the mid-1920s, more than 700 fighters and reconnaissance planes were bought from Holland, Italy, Britain, France and USA, along with BMW, Lorraine-Dietrich, Siddeley Puma, and Liberty engines, at the total cost of 11 million rubles.

Thus, the Junkers firm's work did not meet expectations. The plant did not become the foundation for the development of a modern aircraft industry in our country. Documents from the 1920s provide various explanations.

According to the firm's representatives, the main reason for non-fulfillment of the Fili plant metal aircraft production program and inability to create stocks of duralumin for future production was the problem of getting duralumin from the Durriene Metallurgical plants located in the French-occupied Ruhr region of Germany. As a result, in their words, the firm experienced an acute shortage of materials for aircraft production in the USSR."

Indeed, France was worried by the wrork Junkers was doing in the USSR and tried to hinder it. Soviet intelligence had intercepted a 1923 report the Entente's French group of representatives in Germany submitted to Paris. The report said:

"Our secret agents report that Junkers is the most active of all the German companies in Russia working in aeronautics. This firm is the main supplier to the Soviet Air Forces and its reserve—Civil Aviation. Directing the most serious attention of its government to this, the French Mission points out an effective way to reduce this danger. Junkers airplanes are made of duralumin that is delivered to the firm from the zone we occupy. Deliveries of this metal to Germany's unoccupied regions should be stopped completely. Thus, curtailment of production would be secured. ..According to our data, Junkers' available duralumin reserves are rather low and the above measures, if the Allied Governments support them, would seriously damage Russo-German aeronautics".

The Germans explained the delays in preparations for aircraft engine production at the Fili plant by the fact that discussions of an engine type to be manufactured took a very long time and no final decision was made until late 1923. As for the unsatisfactory specifications of the Ju-20 and Ju-21 airplanes, H. Sachsenberg said that these machines were test beds and should be considered trainers rather than combat aircraft.-0 Meanwhile, the Soviet military leadership had counted above all on the production of combat types.

An explanation also was found for the failure to fulfill obligations concerning aluminum and duralumin production in the USSR—the lack of suitable Soviet enterprises (with the exception of the Kol`chugino Plant. Its managers declined to cooperate with Junkers since they were busy organizing production of their own aluminum alloy—kol`chugaluminum).

The USSR Unified Main Political Department (OGPU) had another point of view. This organization thought that the Junkers leadership failed to cam' out the agreement deliberately with the aim of undermining our country's military might, thus contributing to the fall of the Soviet regime.

The OGPU began taking interest in the work of Junkers in the USSR in late 1923 due to the extreme conservatism that arose following revolutionary turmoil there. Some Junkers employees were "right-wing" advocates. A Soviet agent reported the following to Soviet Air Forces commanding general Rozen'golts in late August 1923: "In Dessau, at the aircraft plants fulfilling Russian orders, an understanding was arranged between local engineers and the Bavarian right-wing. It stipulated that, during the revolutionary movement in Germany or an uprising in Bavaria, all serviceable apparatuses (airplanes) should be handed over to the Bavarian right-wing leadership".

Germany's new foreign policy oriented towards cooperation with the West and suppression of revolutionary7 activities within the country caused coolness in Soviet-German relations and served as a reason for the search for enemies among German entrepreneurs in the USSR. In December 1923, F. E. Dzerzhinskiy ordered his deputy V. R. Menzhinskiy to keep a close eye on the German concessionaires' work. Later, in 1925, he wrote: "I have the impression that the German government, in general, as well as monarchist and nationalist circles, are working to overthrow Bolshevism in the USSR and are oriented towards a monarchist Russia in future. ...Is it j just by accident that the Junkers concession has done next to nothing for us?"

This question from the OGPU boss clearly showed what answer should follow. Department officers quickly gathered all kinds of conceivable and inconceivable compromising materials on the Junkers representatives. One document they prepared contained information concerning ties General von Seekt and the firm's managers had with Fascist and monarchists' parties. It described deliberate construction of unusable military airplanes for the USSR, German aircraft carrying out reconnaissance flights over Soviet territory, Junkers employees involved in smuggling, and even poisons and toxic gases brought into the USSR for the purposes of sabotage. Based upon these "facts," the conclusion was drawn that the Junkers firm should be considered a counter-revolutionary organization engaged in espionage with the aim of destroying the Soviet aircraft industry.

In my view, all these versions are groundless. In the summer of 1923, the Germans really did experience trouble in delivering duralumin from the Ruhr region occupied by French troops, but no one prevented Junkers from buying duralumin abroad, as the German Dornier company did. Junkers failed to begin preparations for aircraft engine production at the Fili plant in 1923 simply because it could not build them. The firm initially only built aircraft. As for difficulties with organizing duralumin production at Russian plants, it should be noted that the suggestion was made that Junkers set up its own plant for making duralumin products.

Of course, all the talk about espionage, sabotage, and anti-Soviet activities is pure nonsense. Like all businessmen H. Junkers was first of all worried about profits and collapse of the Soviet aircraft industry wouldn't bring him any dividends. The airplanes he made in Fili did not meet specifications due to a lack of experience in building military aircraft after the First World War. He had been producing only passenger planes. Soviet displeasure with the fulfillment of this order led to a delay in issuance of a new order for aircraft and inflicted major losses on Junkers. When the Nazis came to power, H. Junkers was persecuted because of his pacifist pronouncements and for taking part in the development of Soviet aviation. In late 1933, he was forced to leave the firm he had founded. Earlier, General von Seekt, an advocate of German-Soviet military and economic cooperation, one of the organizers of the Junkers concession in the USSR, whom the OGPU called the main enemy of Soviet power, lost his job, too.

What are the real reasons for the failure of Junkers in the USSR, the firm on which our country had placed such hopes?

To a large extent, undoubtedly H. Junkers himself was to blame. He turned out not to be a completely honest partner. He did not spend all the money he received from the Soviet government and German military on developing the Soviet aircraft industry and improving the planes made in Fili. Instead, the largest sums went to his plant in Dessau and for setting up a new aircraft engine plant, opening up new commercial air routes, and building new divisions in Turkey and Sweden. German archival data show that, of 8 million golden marks the German military allocated to build combat aircraft in the USSR, the Junkers firm invested only a bit more than 2 million there. Trying to preserve the monopoly on the production of metal airplanes and the ability to fix prices, the firm's leadership delayed the establishment of a new scientific research center at the Fili plant and training of Soviet specialists. They declined to help in starting duralumin and aircraft engine production in the USSR, they rejected the proposal to found a joint Soviet-German enterprise along with concession plant.

A specific share of the blame for the unsatisfactory concession agreement results also falls to the Soviet leadership. Characteristic features of the Soviet system—red tape and procrastination in solving urgent problems (accommodations in Moscow for foreign specialists, troubles with customs clearance of equipment imported from Germany, and so forth); delays in placing new orders; the inability to compromise during financial negotiations—were at play here.

But the main reason for the cancellation of the concession agreement was the fact that, by the mid-1920s due to political and economic changes in the USSR and Germany, Junkers participation in developing the Soviet aircraft industry did not seem as desirable as was the case a few years previously. Certain preconditions for independent development of aviation appeared in Soviet Russia and the existence of foreign concessions was a hindrance. Having signed a treaty with its Western neighbors in 1925, Germany began developing its economic ies with the West and was not is interested in technical coop-jration with Russia, especially in the sphere of aircraft construction. What H. Fischer, lead of the Reichswehr Special Group wrote in early 1926 to H. von Lit-Thompson, German military representative in Moscow, gives witness to this: "...for political reasons we must hold on to the Fili enterprise, but <…> technical reasons at this point do not play the role they did in 1922. Because we do not want to invest new capital in the Fili enterprise, certain questions that would be a financial burden for us are no longer relevant when other possibilities are discussed".

The Reichswehr stopped providing financial support to Junkers and the firm's work in Soviet Russia proved to be impossible without it.

The collapse of the Junkers enterprise in the USSR made those people responsible for aviation development in our country reconsider their attitude towards foreign concessions. In a memorandum Aviatrust sent to the government it was noted that:

"1. It is recognized that attracting a concessionaire is undesirable for production of objects for military purposes. Experience with the Junkers concessionaire showed that it is hard to get airplanes of the types and quality the War Department requires from a concessionaire. Enormous amounts of money are spent on the concessionaire to the detriment of domestic industry. Organization of concessionaire production takes the time our industry could use to stand on its own feet, providing it gets a financial support from the government. In a concessionaire operation, the concessionaire would consume sizable quantities of imported materials (steel, forged pieces, and so forth). This way. our industry would not specialize in the production of these materials and we would lack a metallurgy base. The concessionaire would go out of its way to avoid training our personnel and introducing various innovations into production. Regardless of the circumstances, the concessionaire would get profits from the capital it invested and this would raise manufacturing overhead for each airplane and engine. But, the main thing is that we would hardly have use of the concession enterprise in the event of hostilities.

2. That is why bringing in engineers with vast production experience from abroad appears more feasible. Inviting experienced designers. Inviting foremen, skilled workers. Here, we have the advantage of firing any of them if someone does not give us what we need. Such specialists will train our technical personnel...

3. And, finally, it is very useful to buy the license for an airplane or engine which is suitable to be put into our production. Up until now, there has been extraordinary sluggishness and backwardness in this matter. The present moment demands that we move forward in the matter.

4. Sending our specialists abroad to practice also must produce certain positive results".

I have taken the liberty of presenting this document here almost in full since, in essence, it was the long-term program on foreign aid in the aviation sphere.

By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Germany remained the most active partner of the USSR in the aircraft industry. During that period, ready-made products and production licenses were bought from such well-known German companies as Dornier. Heinkel. and BMW. Negotiations on technical assistance were held with several other German aircraft firms.


  • "The German Imprint on the History of Russian Aviation " /D.A. Sobolev, D.B. Khazanov/