Aviation of World War II

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"TB-3". Battleship Second Class.

Vladimir Kotelnikov

TB-3 in flight

In the Sky of China

TB-3s first took part in combat operations in the summer and autumn of 1937. They acted against the "internal enemy" - the Basmachi in the Pamirs. To support the operations of the border guards and units of the Red Army, 30 R-5s and three TB-3s were then attracted. The latter transported people and goods to hard-to-reach areas.

And the first war that these machines got into was the Japanese-Chinese one. Shortly after the Japanese attack, on August 21, China and the USSR signed a mutual assistance pact. Already in September, the Soviet leadership began to carry out Operation Z - the supply of combat aircraft to China.

In mid-September, they began to select crews for TB-3. In fact, these machines have been in the Chinese sky before. Bombers of the Air Force of the Trans-Baikal District from time to time strayed and ended up in the airspace of their neighbors. Since the Chinese didn’t have air defense, but they also didn’t have a sensible surveillance service, everything ended happily. Unless, according to the reports of our border guards, it was possible to hit the “lip”. So, in February 1934, the pilot Kostromin crossed the border in a night flight, but after 50 minutes, having oriented himself, he returned to our side.

Now it was about servicing the Alma-Ata-Langzhou route, along which they were going to ferry planes to China. Transport TB-3, along with ANT-9 and DB-3, transported specialists and cargo along it. Soon fighters and high-speed bombers flew along the route to China.

Then the question arose of transferring a batch of TB-ZRN to the Chinese side. On October 22, six heavy bombers flew to Alma-Ata. The planes were not new, they had already been operated by the Red Army Air Force for about a year. Four vehicles were taken from the 23rd TBAB and two were overtaken from Rostov. The detachment was commanded by Captain Dontsov. Unlike the I-16 and I-15bis fighters and the SB bombers, on which Soviet pilots were supposed to fight, the TB-3s were intended to be operated by the Chinese. Our crews acted only as ferrymen and instructors.

The planes took off from Alma-Ata with additional cargo: ten FAB-100 bombs in the fuselage and two FAB-500 or four FAB-250 bombs under the wings. In addition, they carried two rounds of ammunition. On October 27, TB-3s landed in Urumqi and proceeded along the highway without incident until Lanzhou, where they arrived on the 31st.

Here the planes were officially handed over to the Chinese authorities. Soviet identification marks were already painted over in Alma-Ata. Now, white twelve-ray stars on a blue background were applied on the plane and the fuselage, and a white-blue “zebra” (four blue and three white horizontal stripes) on the rudder.

The training of Chinese crews began in Lanzhou. At the end of November, a Chinese pilot "attached" one plane so that it had to be written off. On November 30, the remaining five, with mixed Soviet-Chinese crews, flew to Nanchang. There they were covered by Japanese bombers. On December 13, the emergency vehicles were supposed to take off and relocate, but did not have time. The Japanese destroyed two aircraft and seriously damaged two. On December 25, three TB-3s, including two refurbished ones, returned to Lanzhou. The Chinese did not use heavy bombers for their intended purpose. Together with the S.72 bought before the war in Italy, they transported people and cargo. March 16, 1938 on TB-3, piloted by Guo Chia-yan and Zhang Jun-i, one of the engines failed. The pilots decided to return back, but crashed in the Qipan mountain gorge. Of the 25 Soviet volunteers on board, only two survived. The entire crew was killed. Fighter pilot D.A. Kudymov recalled that he used to fly this plane from Hankou to Lanzhou. The commander, taking off, did not even check whether there was enough fuel. The air ran out of fuel. With difficulty crossing the mountain range, the bomber landed at the foot of the mountains among the boulders, short of about half a kilometer to the strip. “We got out of the plane indignant and angry to the limit. The TB pilot was laughing...”

Another TB-3 in 1938 in Chengdu, a Chinese pilot put on the nose, overshot during landing. He rolled out of the airfield and fell into a swamp. The Soviet mechanic later wrote: "The navigational cabin was pulled up like a rhinoceros snout." The cockpit was repaired, the propellers were changed, after which the aircraft was driven back to Lanzhou.

TB-3s of the Red Army Air Force also appeared in China, but in small numbers and for a short time - only as transport ones. So, in November 1937, three TB-3 bombs and cartridges were delivered to Lanzhou from the warehouses of the Trans-Baikal Military District. The planes were moving along the route through Ulaanbaatar. On the way, they were accompanied by a pair of P-5s - not so much for protection, but in case of an emergency landing.

In general, TB-3's career in China turned out to be very short and not glorious at all.

VVS - Voyenno Vozdushnyye sily - Air Force

ADD - Aviatsiya Dal'nego Deystviya - Long Range Aviation

TBAP - Tyazhelo bombardirovochnyy avia polk - Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment

OBAP - Otdel'nyy bombardirovochnyy aviapolk - separate bomber regiment

BAD - Bombardirovochnaya aviatsionnaya diviziya - Bomber Aviation Division

BAK - Bombardirovochnyy aviakorpus - Bomber Air Corps

FAB - Fugasnaya aviabomba - High-explosive aerial bomb

GVF - Grazhdanskiy vozdushnyy flot - Civil Air Fleet

Khasan, Khalkin Gol and Trip to Poland

The first real combat targets of the TB-3 had to be hit on native soil. In the summer of 1938, they took part in the battles near Lake Khasan in the Far East. At the end of July, the Japanese took up positions on the Zaozernaya and Bezymyannaya hills on the Soviet side of the border. To knock out their TB-3s with M-34 engines ready to take off from there, Red Army units were concentrated, which supported 250 aircraft. These included 60 TB-3s under the command of A.V. Konovalov. On the evening of August 6, this entire armada fell upon the trenches, artillery batteries and the rear of the Japanese group. TB-3s were in the first wave.

This was the first and only case when the four-engine giants were used as originally intended - during the day, in large groups, with salvo bombing from a dense formation from medium altitudes, with complete air supremacy.

Then the support of the advancing tanks and infantry was provided mainly by the SB and fighters, and the TB-3 switched to cargo transportation. The flood cut off the Soviet troops from the rear, and the planes were carrying crackers, butter, cereals and shag to the combat area.

Naval aviation was not involved in the bombing, although its TB-3s were on duty at airfields with suspended bombs. They were also used to escort steamships on their way to Posyet Bay. And the 16th transport detachment participated in the transportation of food and ammunition to the front line.

TB-3s were also used at Khalkhin Gol. True, there were few of them. After the start of hostilities, two squadrons (the former 113th and 114th) were allocated from the 4th TBAP, based at the Domno station in Transbaikalia, and transferred to Mongolia, to the Obo-Somon region. By May 1, seven TB-3s with M-17 engines arrived in the Air Force in the 57th Rifle Corps (they were also called “Air Force Comrade Feklenko”, by the name of the corps commander, and in official documents too) and four more were preparing to fly to Mongolia. They formed the 19th Transport and Medical Squadron, sometimes also referred to as "Major Yegorov's group"; a little later it was brought to 23 aircraft. Two other squadrons of the 4th TBAP remained in Domno and were used as transport squadrons.

As a matter of fact, at first all TB-3s on Khalkhin Gol served as transport vehicles. The nearest railroad was hundreds of kilometers away. Everyone was transported either by vehicle or by air. TB-3 "shuttle" on the route Tamtsag - Bulak - Chita. Weapons, people, ammunition, uniforms, medicines were brought to the front. On one occasion, three trucks delivered equipment to the printing house, which printed leaflets in Japanese, Chinese and Mongolian. In total, TB-3 transported 1885 tons of cargo. The wounded were brought back - 15-20 people per plane.

TB-3, which was not specially adapted for transporting the wounded, usually took six to eight seriously and 14 lightly wounded, and equipped - 1 2 seriously and six lightly wounded. The stretcher was placed on three floors in the center section, next to the gas tanks. Seated wounded were placed in the fuselage and in the planes.

Already during the operations at Khalkhin Gol, in July 1939, the Sanitary Institute of the Red Army prepared a special draft of the sanitary TB-3 and asked for a vehicle for conversion. On August 5, the UVVS offered to take five bombers from Rzhev and refine them at factory No. 84 in Khimki. Overloaded with orders, the plant refused. Apparently, the sanitary TB-3 never appeared. The machines of the 4th TBAP were retrofitted on the spot on their own in the simplest way.

TB-3 made more than 500 transport flights. In all cases, cargo and people were safely delivered to their destination. On one plane, during a flight to Chita, the right engine closest to the fuselage caught fire. The fire was extinguished in the air and arrived at their destination. Another vehicle had a radiator leak in flight. The flight engineer, having tied a halyard to the fuselage handrail, walked along the plane with a can of water in his hand and topped up the system with a hand pump.

When the Soviet-Mongolian troops began preparing for the offensive, TB-3s from Obo-Somon switched to the role of night bombers. The first flight took place on the night of August 19-20. They went to the target one by one. The front line was marked by lanterns, located 3-7 km from the front line and standing so that they were visible only when approaching from our rear. Approximately 8 km from the front line there was an approximate 50-meter arrow of lanterns.

Bombing pursued the goal of psychologically exhausting the enemy, and sometimes - noise masking of troop movements on our side. Therefore, we then moved on to the tactics of flying by single machines at different times. Every night 6-20 ships started. Each TB-3 took up to 1300 kg of small-caliber bombs, in just a night they dropped 25 tons.

Usually, the target was first illuminated by SABs, then, slowly, they made several approaches with the dropping of bombs from a height of 1000-1500 m. Japanese anti-aircraft artillery fired at the bombers, but without much success. The only case was recorded when the TB-3 received significant damage - the engine of L. Varochkin's plane was disabled over the front line. Nevertheless, he reached the target on three engines, bombed himself and returned to the airfield.

In general, until September 15, when the Japanese group capitulated, only one TB-3 was decommissioned, and even then after the accident. During this period, 160 combat sorties were made. During the operation on Khalkhin Gol, these aircraft acted as night bombers for the first time. Evaluation of their effectiveness may be different. On the one hand, they fulfilled their task - they constantly disturbed the enemy, exhausting his troops, not letting them sleep. The report of the Air Force of the 1st Army Group (in which the 57th Corps was deployed) states: “The experience of using night heavy aviation in the second stage turned out to be successful in the absence of night fighter aircraft and searchlights in the enemy. Her actions caused both moral and material damage to the enemy.” Here is the second question that is debatable. The search for dispersed targets near the front and in the near rear and their defeat at night turned out to be quite difficult, "... the results of night bombing are insignificant," said the captured document of the headquarters of the Japanese 23rd Infantry Division. But in general, the experience of night use of TB-3 turned out to be quite successful.

As soon as the fighting in Mongolia ended, the TB-3s were again at the forefront. On September 17, 1939, the Red Army crossed the border of Poland. For this operation, a large air force was assembled. In the border Belarusian and Kiev military districts, there were 157 TB-3s, but the equipment was rather worn out, and about half of this number of aircraft was combat-ready. On the Belorussian front, only 38 out of 75 aircraft were operational in the 3rd TBAP. It is interesting that the aircraft of later releases with the M-34 and M-34R were even inferior to the old bombers with the M-17 in terms of the percentage of combat readiness. Two-thirds of the first in the Kiev region were chained to the ground.

Only transport functions were assigned to TB-3. At first they were used for the transfer of ground personnel of air regiments redeployed to the front. When the troops crossed the border, it turned out that there was no enemy in front of them. On the Polish side there were disparate military units, most of them already battered by the Germans and taken to the rear for resupplying. They were completely deprived of air cover. Many of them surrendered with the available equipment. Only the most persistent tried to break through to the Romanian or Hungarian borders, and even then, trying to avoid fighting with the Soviet troops. The rate of advance of the Red Army was much higher than planned. The forward detachments were far removed from the supply bases. The air regiments that flew to the captured airfields were left without fuel and ammunition. This is where the TB-3 came in handy.

So, for the horse-mechanized group named after. Dzerzhinsky, moving to Grodno, the planes of the 3rd BAP within four days, from September 20 to 24, parachuted or delivered 100 tons of fuel by landing. The headquarters of the Air Force of the Belorussian Front, after being relocated to Volkovysk 1, was fed for 8 days with food dropped by parachutes. On the Ukrainian front, the 14th TBAP was engaged in similar transportation. He delivered people, ammunition, food. Operations in Poland ended by mid-October.

Against Finland

Already at the end of October, Air Force units that had completed the Polish campaign began to be transferred to the Leningrad Military District. A month later, the war with Finland began. It also did not do without TB-3.

A significant number of these vehicles were permanently based near Leningrad before the war. They were included in the 7th TBAP. After the outbreak of hostilities, equipment from the rear districts also arrived. The 2nd squadron of the 3rd TBAP entered the Air Force of the 9th Army. The first five of her TB-3s flew from Borovskoye near Kalinin to the Chiksha ice airfield in Karelia on January 9, 1940. Three more arrived after them. The “Spirin group” operating on the same sector of the front (it was commanded by brigade commander Spirin) included six TB-3s from the 1st TBAP. They were transferred from Rostov-on-Don on March 1. These aircraft were based at the Straits airfield.

At first, the four-engine giants flew out for bombing during the day, under the cover of old I-15bis fighters. Bombed settlements, railway stations, factories. But they tried not to let them into the areas of active activity of Finnish fighters - they were used mainly on secondary sectors of the front. So, in the zone of the 9th Army, until January 1940, enemy aircraft were not seen at all.

Bombs took different - from small "lighters" and fragmentation AO-32 to FAB-500. The raids were carried out from an altitude of 2500-3000 m by single aircraft and small groups. Similarly, TB-3s, for example, bombed Kyrynsalmi and Suomussalmi.

But as the skill of Finnish anti-aircraft gunners and fighter pilots improved, and enemy aviation was replenished with more modern types of aircraft, Tupolev's aircraft increasingly switched to a "night lifestyle". The report of the Air Force of the 9th Army states: "The use of TB-3 aircraft as combat aircraft is impractical due to its large dimensions and low speed, and use during the day is completely unacceptable."

The incident with an aircraft from the Spirin group on March 10, 1940 put an end to the daytime bombing sorties. Recently arrived TB-3s were released during the day to familiarize themselves with the area before night sorties. They walked in a group without cover. The target was Rovaniemi. At Vika station they were attacked by a lone Finnish fighter. Ours identified it as "Geymkok" (in fact, the "Gladiator" of Swedish production, and the pilot G. Karlsson was also a Swede). He made several visits from below and behind (the group included old vehicles without stern and "dagger" rifle installations). One of the TB-3s fell to the right and, descending, disappeared into the clouds. The bombers opened fire indiscriminately. The fighter left without damage, but on two TB-3s that were not subjected to its attacks, then they counted several holes from bullets in the stabilizers.

TB-3, commanded by Senior Lieutenant S.T. Karepov, made an emergency landing on enemy territory. The crew accepted the battle with the Finnish soldiers surrounding the vehicle. All were killed, except for two who were taken prisoner. The then head of the Air Force, Smushkevich, reacted very sharply to this incident: "In the future, I categorically forbid the use of TB-3 during the day without my special permission."

As night bombers, four-engine giants were used until the end of hostilities. In particular, they were used during the breakthrough of the Mannerheim Line. They dropped bombs of 250, 500 and 1000 kg on the fortified areas. But in general, they made more sorties for transport transportation than for bombing. In winter and off-road conditions, aviation often remained the only means of supplying troops on the front line.

The planes played a particularly important role in supporting the 54th Infantry Division, cut off by the Finns from their own. For 45 days she was supplied only by air. All cargo was transferred to SB and TB-3. The latter turned out to be much more profitable for such operations. You can’t take much on the SB - the bomb bay is small, and bulky PDMM bags were torn off from the external suspension already at a speed of more than 250 km / h. But TB-3 was stuffed to the top. Products, shag, cigarettes, matches, vitamins were placed in bags, and the bags were packed in containers from FAB-50 and FAB-100 bombs. They also carried grenades. They were wrapped in rags, and hay or tow was placed in bags. Cartridges were placed in bags in zinc, boxes and buckets. Overcoats, felt boots, blankets, padded jackets were simply tied into bales. All this was placed in bomb bays on makeshift wooden bridges or hung on external bomb racks. The drop was carried out without parachutes from a height of 50-400 m (according to the situation). The passage of the TB-3 at low altitude in full view of the enemy was the most dangerous part of the task. At the same time, three vehicles were shot down, moreover, by the fire of conventional infantry machine guns and small arms.

Shells, charges, PPD submachine guns and discs for them, radio stations, batteries, telephones were dropped in PDMM parachute bags. If there were not enough special trucks, they attached combat landings PN-2 or PN-4. Gasoline was dumped in PDBB tanks or simply in barrels.

It was the operations to supply the encircled units that made the greatest contribution to the losses of TB-3. One damaged TB-3 was forced to land at the command post of the 54th division, the crew survived. The other did not reach his airfield and sat down in the forest: one crew member was killed, two were injured. Two more vehicles were badly damaged.

On February 13, the plane of the 7th BAP was damaged by anti-aircraft artillery after dropping cargo. The bomber landed on the ice of a frozen lake. Finnish soldiers rushed to the vehicle. Her crew took the fight. Only two wounded survived and were taken prisoner. The bomber itself was finished off by mortar fire.

The Baltic States and Bessarabia

The pre-war years, when exercises were regularly conducted with the participation of airborne troops, have borne fruit. In the course of the accession to the USSR of the Baltic States and Bessarabia, large landings were landed in a combat situation. And they landed them from TB-3.

The 214th Airborne Brigade operated in Lithuania and Latvia. On June 16, 1940, 63 TB-3s were transferred to the airfield near Siauliai with the first wave of troops - 720 people. The bombers escorted the fighters of two squadrons of the 1st 7th Fighter Regiment (IAP). Each plane took 16-24 people plus two or three bags of PDMM. They also transported 160 machine guns and 36 mortars. From Siauliai, the paratroopers moved on the armor of tanks to Latvia.

A second wave was planned to land, including 18 45mm cannons, but it was cancelled. The landing at the Gayjuny station with the aim of capturing Kaunas did not take place either.

TB-3 also provided the supply of mechanized columns, rushing from the borders into the depths of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. At the same time, 1983 people and 768 tons of cargo were transported, 402 tons had to be dropped with parachutes. This entire operation was referred to in the documents as "liquidation of the conflict with the Baltic countries."

When preparing a similar operation in Bessarabia in June 1940, the 1st (from Minsk to Gogolev), the 3rd (from Reblitz to Borispol), the 7th (from Reblitz to Borispol and Odessa) and the 14th (from Palestine to Borispol) TBAP. In total, they numbered 136 TB-3.

Initially, the command of the Southern Front (which had the 201st, 204th and 214th airborne divisions) planned to organize one large landing in the Tirgu Frumos area, 20 km from Iasi, blocking a major road junction to prevent the evacuation of material assets. The troops were supposed to land 120 TB-3, which were supposed to be covered by five regiments of fighters.

In reality, according to the situation, two troops landed. On June 29, a landing took place in the Bolgrad area. At dawn, two P-5s were sent to the selected site for additional reconnaissance. Behind them flew 99 TB-3, taking on board 1436 people. 97 aircraft flew to the site, two made emergency landings due to malfunctions. The site was small for landing TB-3, so the troops were thrown out by parachute. High winds on landing caused several accidents. One fighter died (hooked on the dome of the bomber's stabilizer), another received a concussion and then died in the hospital, five broke their legs.

By the next day, Bolgrad was completely captured by the soldiers of the 204th airborne brigade. One battalion moved to Cahul and, after a small skirmish with the Romanians, occupied the city near Reni.

The second landing took place on 30 June. 44 TB-3s were transferred to Izmail by the 201st airborne brigade in a combined way. The brigade was given the task of taking the city, blocking roads and preventing steamers from leaving the port.

The landing was supposed to be landing. 43 aircraft reached the target, one lagged behind and got lost. The site was too small for TB-3, but the pilots decided to take a chance. 1 2 vehicles landed, but three of them were damaged and blocked the runway. Then the parachute drop began. 240 people disembarked from the previously landed bombers, unloaded a pickup truck and cargo. 509 paratroopers landed by parachute. There were no casualties, one fighter broke his leg, and ten more received minor injuries. Two TB-3s returned to the base loaded: one was carrying radio equipment that could not be dropped, and the other was flying a musical team, which, as it turned out, could not jump with parachutes.

Everything seems to have gone well. But the command was well aware that both in the Baltic states and in Bessarabia, landings were made under extremely favorable conditions, in the absence of opposition from aviation and anti-aircraft artillery. Commander of the Air Force of the Kiev Military District, Major General Nikolaenko, wrote in a report on operations in Bessarabia: The TB-3 is unsuitable for this purpose due to its flight performance.” Clearly and clearly.

The Day Before

Until the spring of 1940, the position of the Air Force command regarding the TB-3 was unambiguous: the aircraft was completely outdated, it was no longer suitable for the role of a bomber or landing aircraft. It was supposed to select better vehicles for military transport aviation and the Civil Air Fleet, and write off the rest. During the year, they wanted to withdraw a total of 330 TB-3 from the Air Force. This is despite the fact that on February 1, 1940, their total fleet in the Air Force was 509 aircraft, of which 1,00 were out of order. More than half were old vehicles with M-17 engines (80% of them were serviceable). In second place in terms of numbers were TB-ZR; there were more than a hundred of them, and up to 90% could take to the air. There were slightly fewer aircraft with M-34 and M-34RN; of these, too, 75-80% were considered combat-ready. The average resource of gliders was about 30%. Of this total, 459 TB-3s were directly in the combat units (of which 92 were faulty). A decision was already being prepared to completely withdraw this type from service.

But already in the summer of 1940, the rate began to change dramatically. It was already becoming clear that entering into a major war could not be avoided. And at the same time, the plans for the rapid expansion of the Air Force were frustrated, the industry did not have time to saturate them with modern technology. Many long-range bomber regiments, formed in 1940 and armed according to the plan with DB-ZF and DB-240, did not receive a single aircraft at all.

Under these conditions, it was impossible to neglect a large fleet of even more or less suitable TB-3s. If they could no longer bomb during the day, they were still quite capable of doing it at night. This was facilitated by the large resource of the airframe of the Tupolev machine, which was repeatedly extended, and each time it turned out that this was quite justified. Another thing is that the production of these aircraft was discontinued a long time ago, there were not enough spare parts, and, in fact, no one set the task of bringing the aircraft to a combat-ready state without exception, since they were going to be written off.

The general obsolescence of the TB-3 was impossible to deny, and they were going to use it only for lack of a better one. In July 1940, TB-3 senior lieutenant I.A. Malkov from the 8th TBAP, avoiding a thunderstorm, landed on the airfield not to the east, but to the west of Brest - near the Germans. Luftwaffe mechanics neatly sheathed the vehicle. The crew was escorted to the headquarters and asked to temporarily hand over their personal weapons, and then fed in the officers' mess. Having figured it out, the Germans released the plane on the same day, giving the commander a certificate with a seal that they had no claims in connection with a navigational error. This is not interesting, but how the German pilots viewed the "flying hut" at their airfield. I did not come up with this expression - a bomber mechanic, who spoke a little German, told me about it. Yes, the impression was not at all the one with which the officers of the Reichswehr looked at the experienced TB-3 in 1931.

And at this very time, a sharp turn came in the fate of TB-3. It was ordered to remove the TB-3 from the landing and transport units. Due to these machines, they wanted to transfer the 3rd and 7th TBAP to the five-squadron staff, create heavy detachments in the 5th (Murmansk) and 80th (Arkhangelsk) mixed regiments (sap) and form eight separate squadrons - in Vaziani, Tashkent and in the Far East.

They refused to write off a significant share of TB-3. By T January 1941, it was planned to have aircraft from the M-17 - 278, from the M-34 - 76, from the M-34R - 123 and from the M-34RN - 69. Based on these figures, it can be assumed that only about a dozen of the most dilapidated bombers, and some of the TB-ZRN to be converted to M-34RB engines, less high-altitude, but more reliable (they were made from sorted M-34RN, removing superchargers).

The next step followed in February 1941, when a decree "On the reorganization of the Red Army aviation forces" was issued, which provided for the formation of five more regiments on these clumsy giants. The TB-3 was intended to be used both as bombers and as military transport aircraft. But the obstacle turned out to be an insufficient amount of serviceable equipment. On June 6, 1941, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks and the Council of People's Commissars issued a joint resolution on urgently bringing 500 TB-3 to a combat-ready state. The factories were given orders to restore the production of spare parts. Plant No. 26 in Rybinsk continued to produce M-17 engines in small quantities. In addition to this, they tried to establish their production at the Gorky Automobile Plant. Brigades of aircraft factory workers were sent to the military units. Part of the work was carried out by workshops and factories of civil aviation.

According to the report of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff N.F. Vatutin, the Red Army Air Force on June 15, 1941 had six combat-ready regiments of heavy bombers. That's where they started the war.

The Great Patriotic War

On June 22, 1941, there were 516 TB-3s in the Air Force. Naval aviation had another 25 machines. Being located on airfields relatively remote from the border, these machines avoided catastrophic losses from the first German strikes. As a result, at the initial stage of the war, they made up a fairly significant part of the bomber aircraft that participated in the hostilities.

In the conditions of German air superiority, slow-moving giants were very vulnerable during the day, but they worked quite successfully in the dark. Already on the night of June 23, the first heavy bombs fell on German tanks. Aircraft of the 3rd TBAP attacked the enemy troops in the areas of the Seim, Sopotskin, Radin and Vengrov without loss. The next night, the 1st and 3rd tanks attacked German airfields in Suwalki, Mozhedovo, Bela Podlyaska and Ostroleka with high-explosive and cluster bombs.

But at first, TB-3s also flew during the day. The fact is that the advancing German troops soon became the main targets, and it is not easy to detect and hit these targets at night. During daytime sorties, which were then usually carried out without cover (there were not enough fighters), heavy bombers suffered heavy losses, especially when bombing from low and medium altitudes. So, on the afternoon of June 26, three TB-3s tried to bomb the Berezina crossing - and they were all shot down. True, at night the pilots of the 1st TBAP nevertheless completed this task. Gradually TB-3 switched to operations only under the cover of darkness. They operated on German communications east of Minsk, on the front near Mogilev, Galich and Smolensk. On the night of July 1-2, the 1st and 3rd TBAP organized deep raids on the rear airfields of the enemy. The surprise of this raid made it possible to inflict heavy losses on the German bombers. The intensity of combat operations was very high for vehicles of this class. On August 30 and 31, TB-3s made up to three sorties per night!

Night flights required higher crew training and better navigation equipment. When it was cloudy, it became very difficult to find a target, and on clear moonlit nights, the slow-moving TB-3s became vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery. Radio semi-compasses were still a rarity, as well as special night bombsights.

There were cases when the planes wandered for a long time, trying to restore orientation. On July 13, a vehicle from the 3rd TBAP mistakenly started bombing Mozhaisk, was attacked and shot down by its own fighters. The plane exploded in the air, the crew died.

TB-3 turned out to be a very "survivable" machine. Her strong and reliable glider had the ability to hold on even with very significant combat damage. A bomber with a meter-long hole in the skin sometimes calmly returned to its home airfield. Four engines, two pilots, a huge wing with good gliding qualities kept the vehicle in the air. Even with very "severe" forced landings on the forest, stumps, ditches, the crew usually remained alive. The main danger was fires - the gas tanks on the TB-3 were not protected and did not have a neutral gas pressurization system.

Due to the influx of reinforcements from the rear, the number of corrugated giants at the front, despite the losses, did not decrease, but increased. In the rear, new units were formed from hastily repaired vehicles. From the TB-3s collected from the pine forest in Nizhyn, at the end of the summer, a whole regiment of heavy bombers was formed - the 325th.

If on July 22 there were 51 TB-3, then by August 22 there were 127 of them. They accounted for about a quarter of the fleet of long-range bomber aviation operating at the front. Of its six divisions, four (22nd, 50th, 51st and 52nd) included regiments on TB-3.

The aviation of the Black Sea Fleet used the Zveno-SPB system in combat operations. For these purposes, at the beginning of the war, equipment was restored on six TB-ZRN 1 of the 8th transport detachment and 12 I-16s of the 32nd IAP. They were used on targets that were difficult to hit in other ways due to their remoteness or saturation with air defense systems. The first was a raid on Constanta on August 1, 1941. Two TB-3s, about 40 km from the target, dropped a pair of I-16s. Fighters set fire to an oil storage facility and landed safely at an intermediate airfield near Odessa. During the second raid on Constanta, several ships in the port were damaged, but only two of the six fighters returned back. The most famous was the operation against the well-defended Chernovodsky bridge across the Danube. It was bombed twice - on 11 and 13 August. For the first time, it was possible to damage the central span and interrupt the oil pipeline running through the bridge. In the second case, the bombs caused damage to the bridge piers. On September 1, 8, one "Link" carried out two sorties against a pontoon bridge across the Dnieper near Kakhovka, as a result of which two FAB-250s fell into the crossing. Later, attacks were made on the Ploiesti oil refinery and the floating dock in Constanta. When the Germans approached Perekop, the "Links" attracted nearby targets, in particular, mechanized columns, to attacks. Operations continued until the autumn of 1942, when, due to the great vulnerability of carriers, the use of SPB was stopped.

But back to the first months of the war. TB-3s also played a big role as transport aircraft. At night, reconnaissance and sabotage groups were thrown from them behind enemy lines. In August 1941, only the 1st BAP delivered 1,64 paratroopers behind the front line. Aircraft of this type were brought in to supply the encircled units, and sometimes they had to fly during the day and without cover. So, in July 1941, ten TB-3s dropped ammunition in the Gomel region. They were attacked by German fighters. The bombers lined up in a defensive circle, dropping almost to the ground. The terrain was open, and the pilots managed to stay at a height of about 50 m. In that battle, the shooters completely spent their cartridges, but almost all attacks were repelled - the Germans shot down only one plane, the rest returned safely to base.

In the first five months of 1941, heavy bombers transported 2,791 tons of cargo and 2,300 people to the Western Front. During the battles near Orel, aircraft from Yaroslavl transferred units of the 5th Airborne Corps. Together with the military TB-3, their civilian "brothers" G-2 (the same TB-3, only disarmed) took part in this event. When the Soviet troops got into the "cauldron" near Vyazma, aviation supplied them with ammunition, food and fuel.

The TB-3s of the 7th TBAP, 39th tbaz and the transport squadron of the Baltic Fleet made a great contribution to the organization of the "air bridge" to Leningrad. To increase the payload, bomb racks, ladders, and some equipment were removed from the bombers. However, external bomb racks came in handy - tank engines were carried on them. TB-3 took four engines weighing 650 kg each. Return flights brought evacuees from Leningrad.

In November 1941, the plane of Senior Lieutenant AI Sudakov was carrying 20 women and children from Leningrad. A plane flying without cover over Ladoga was attacked by a pair of Messerschmitts. A fire broke out in the right plane, the gunner-radio operator Dadykin was killed, co-pilot Petrov was seriously wounded. The damaged bomber barely landed on the ice near the "road of life".

Four-engine "old men" took part in the battle near Moscow. As of September 25, 1941, the Air Force of the Western Front had 25 TB-3s - about 40% of all bombers available there. In general, since September, the number of aircraft of this type at the front began to fall - heavy losses affected. On October 22, 92 TB-3 remained in the ranks of long-range aviation. But the relative losses of the TB-3 were less than those of the DB-3, and by the end of November they were up to a third of its fleet.

Bombers worked exclusively at night. So, on the night of October 9-10, aircraft of the 1st and 3rd tanks bombed a concentration of German mechanized troops near the Ugryumovo station (south of Yukhnov), the next night - southeast of Vyazma. Then the familiar airfields in Borovsky, Shatalovo, Orsha became targets. They flew "on a short shoulder", were based close to the front line and constantly retreated. Sites one after another went to the Germans, sometimes together with planes that did not have time to fly away.

On October 7, a curious incident occurred. The reconnaissance and sabotage battalion briefly recaptured the Maltsevo airfield from the German motorcyclists and found there three TB-3s abandoned by the 1st TBAP. The question arose of what to do with them, because the motorcyclists were only the vanguard, and the battalion could not resist the main enemy forces for a long time. Two aircraft were burned, and the instructor of the parachute service, Senior Lieutenant P. Balashov, undertook to fly on the third. He studied at the flying club and once piloted a light aircraft. Together with the scouts, the bomber technician Kravtsov returned to the airfield. Together they lifted the TB-3 into the air and brought it safely to Tushino. Balashov sat down from the fifth run, but he had never taken the helm of such a hulk before!

To compensate for losses, already fairly battered bombers (usually with M-17B or M-17F engines) from various aviation schools were sent to the active army. So, in October 1941, a separate squadron TB-3 was formed at the Chelyabinsk school of shooters-bombers, commanded by Captain V.N. Zaitsev. In November, she was sent to the Western Front.

At the beginning of 1942, there was a single case of combat use of the radio-controlled TB-3. In December of the previous year, there were two "torpedoes" and two control aircraft. One set of TB-3 and command DB-ZF was in Ivanovo, completely ready for use. The second, where the SB acted as a control plane, was brought to the base of the 81st air division in Kazan. In January 1942, they tried to destroy the railway junction in Vyazma with a "torpedo". However, the target was not hit. According to one version, the TB-3 receiving antenna was interrupted by a fragment of an anti-aircraft projectile, according to another, it fell off due to icing. The plane went deep behind enemy lines and crashed after running out of fuel. The second "torpedo" burned down later in Kazan at the airfield - another plane crashed into it.

In 1942, TB-3 served their purpose in the offensive. In January, they were used for landings south of Vyazma (two battalions and one regiment), and then near Yukhnov. For this, 40 PS-84s and 22 TB-3s were concentrated. It took them four days to transfer all the allocated forces with two or three sorties a day.

In the same month, Major Polikarpov's special transport group was formed in Krasnodar. Its basis was made up of vehicles of the 250th TBAP, transferred from Transbaikalia. They were replenished with planes arriving from different places, even from Mongolia. A total of 28 TB-3s of various modifications were recruited. On the night of February 25, for the first time, aircraft dropped cargo to the partisans of the Crimea. On the ground, they picked up more than a hundred parachute bags with ammunition and medicines thrown from three TB-3s. Then, for two months, the planes of the Polikarpov group flew behind enemy lines.

Since May 1942, the baton of supplying the partisans was taken over by the 325th TBAP. Major Zhmurov even tried to sit in his huge vehicle on a small platform in the mountains. The plane succeeded in landing, but not taking off. The TB-3, already off the ground, caught on a hillock, fell on its wing and crashed into a ravine. But both the crew and the passengers, the wounded soldiers, survived. Flights to the Crimean partisans continued until the end of August, after which all combat-ready TB-3s of the 325th TBAP were thrown against the German troops that had entered the passes of the Caucasus Range.

The work for them was on other fronts. After the creation of Long-Range Aviation (ADD), most of the heavy bombers became part of it. In May 1942, TB-3s of the 53rd division of the ADD dropped cargo to the troops surrounded near Demyansk and delivered 1.8 tons of ammunition, 6.7 tons of food and 1 ton of fuel in just one night on May 4. Slow giants were unique in their ability to deliver large vehicles. If the PS-84 could take on board a field or anti-tank gun, then the TB-3 on an external sling could take away various wheeled or tracked vehicles up to light tanks. Between the landing gear in the assembled form could fit both a truck and an anti-aircraft gun. Such flights were made even behind enemy lines, for example, in the summer of 1942 near Vyazma to the horsemen of General Belov.

From the middle of 1942, both as night bombers and as military transport aircraft, the TB-3 began to replace the more modern PS-84 (Li-2). Later, even more advanced American C-47s appeared in transport regiments and divisions. But Tupolev's archaic-looking four-engine aircraft remained in the Soviet Air Force for a long time. In July, these vehicles participated in raids on the railway junction in Bryansk. At the same time, one FAB-2000 was dropped, which caused great destruction.

At times, TB-3s demonstrated miracles of combat survivability. So, the plane of Captain Ya.I. Plyashechnik was attacked in the Luga area by two Bf 110 fighters. A burning bomber on three engines went to a given area and dropped paratroopers, after which the pilots managed to land on their territory. In July 1942, on a damaged TB-3, the crew of Senior Lieutenant I.F. Matveev successfully bombed in the Voronezh region and, having extinguished the fire, returned to their airfield. On August 18, Matveev was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

At the front, they tried to improve the TB-3 as much as possible, primarily its equipment and weapons. The bombers were equipped with additional machine guns in the sides, instead of the open Tur-5s, modern shielded MV-3s for the ShKAS machine gun were installed on old machines (sometimes one, sometimes two, instead of each Tur-5). There were also aircraft with the UTK-1 upper mount for the UBT heavy machine gun. They changed radio equipment, sights, put radio semi-compasses RPK-2B and RPK-10.

Aircraft of the 53rd and 62nd ADD divisions took part in the defensive battle near Stalingrad. There they began with the bombing of crossings across the Don. A year later, TB-3 bombs contributed to the victory near Kursk, where the crew of Lieutenant V. Bezbokov from the 7th Guards performed an amazing feat. a shelf. In his heavy car, he landed at night with headlights on in a cornfield behind enemy lines to pick up the pilots of another plane that had landed with parachutes. At the end of September 1943, TB-3s took part in the parachute landing on the Bukrinsky bridgehead near Kiev.

Since the beginning of 1943, obsolete bombers began to be returned from the front to flight schools. So, in August, the 1st Guards. the ADD regiment handed over 12 of the oldest and most worn-out vehicles to Chelyabinsk. There they were used for training in bombing and aerial shooting until the very end of the war. From the beginning of 1944, TB-3s finally switched to the role of military transport and training vehicles, and they were operated mainly in the rear. This is indirectly evidenced by the statistics of losses. During 1944, the Air Force wrote off 15 TB-3s with M-17 engines, one with M-34s and three with M-34RNs, but only because of accidents and wear and tear.

In the rear, part of the old-fashioned giants survived the collapse of the "Third Reich" In any case, as part of the 52nd Guards. regiment of the 18th air army (which the ADD was turned into) on July 1, 1945, there were still 20 such aircraft. On August 18, 1945, TB-3s took part in the last air parade in their "life". Three vehicles performed in the episode "Old and New" - three Pe-8s flew behind them.

During the post-war reduction of the armed forces, all remaining TB-3s were soon written off.

In Civil Aviation

At the end of 1939 - beginning of 1940, the fleet of the Civil Air Fleet was replenished with a rather significant number of vehicles transferred from the Air Force and Naval Aviation. They ended up mainly in the Turkmen, East Siberian and North Kazakhstan administrations. Aircraft with M-17 engines were operated on a number of lines in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, for example, Ashgabat - Tashauz, Ashgabat - Chardzhou, Tashkent - Urgench, and also in Siberia - Chita - Tsipikan and Tyumen - Salekhard. vehicles with M-34 engines flew only along the Moscow-Tashkent highway.

On January 31, 1940, the plane with tail number L-3047 lost orientation during the flight Moscow - Minsk - Bialystok and landed by mistake at the German airfield Lyk in Poland. The Germans treated the crew politely and after a couple of days sent him home. It was there that the troubles began for the pilots ...

As of February 1, 1940, the Civil Air Fleet had 37 G-2s with M-17s and four with M-34s, for a total of 41. As of March 1, there were already 47. By December 1, 1940, there were already 36 aircraft with M-17, five with M-34R and six with M-34RNB.

Specially formed civil aviation detachments took part in the entry into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. Again G-2s carried mail, newspapers, literature, weapons and ammunition. The four-engine giants were operated very intensively in the Civil Air Fleet. In 1940, the G-2 was one of the few types of aircraft whose output in terms of ton-kilometers turned out to be more than planned.

On June 22, 1941, there were 45 four-engine aircraft in civil aviation (without polar aviation vehicles). To help the front, by July 1, five air groups and three air squadrons were formed. They included 25 G-2. Most of them were in the Moscow Special Purpose Air Group (MAGON).

In the first months of the war, the losses of transport aviation were especially great. By August 1, seven G-2s had already been lost. Three were destroyed by the Germans, two were destroyed in accidents, and two more were shot down by their own. Yes, at first, both pilots and anti-aircraft gunners often confused the types of vehicles, which led to tragic consequences. So, on July 15, our anti-aircraft artillery in the Smolensk region fired on and damaged another aircraft.

In August, we lost another G-2, destroyed during the retreat. This month, civilian aircraft began to arm. They put what was at hand - both YES and ShKAS. By the end of the month, four G-2s received machine guns.

In October 1941, civilian aircraft were involved in the transfer of parts of the 5th Airborne Corps near Orel and Mtsensk. At the same time, the vehicles were overloaded almost twice against the norm. Aircraft landed on sites near the forward edge, often under artillery fire.

By January 1, 1941, the total list of losses of the G-2 reached 11 vehicles, in total there were 29 of them left in the Civil Air Fleet (four of them with the M-34). Due to the replenishment of front-line air groups from the rear departments, the total number of four-engine aircraft in them remained approximately constant - 18-19 aircraft.

Already in February 1942, the transport units began to switch to the PS-84 (Li-2), and the G-2 was transferred to the rear. At the same time, air groups were reorganized into transport regiments and divisions. For the whole of 1942, the Civil Air Fleet lost only three G-2s, and one was written off after an accident in the rear. Of the two aircraft lost at the front, on March 20, in the Kerch region, it hit a flock of ducks and made an emergency landing in the floodplains. A fire started and the vehicle burned down completely; the pilots survived. The second was shot by German fighters on August 1, 7 during takeoff from the Srednyaya Akhtuba airfield; the entire crew of five was killed. On May 1, 1942, only six G-2s remained at the front, of which only three were serviceable. In the rear there were 28 vehicles (of which 18 could take to the air).

Among the regiments that kept the Tupolev aircraft in service was the 5th, which operated in Karelia. October 10, 1943 Captain Sobchik's TB-ZRN was shot down during a landing. The plane did not reach the airfield, landing on the forest. The crew escaped. During 1943, the number of corrugated giants slowly decreased, reaching the beginning of the 44th to 24 machines. But individual G-2s remained at the front until the very victory over Germany.

In the rear, they also became less and less - due to wear, accidents, lack of spare parts. By the beginning of 1944, 17 of them remained. They worked mainly in Siberia and Central Asia. So, they exported gold from the Magadan region. Due to the lack of equipment in the rear, the aircraft were operated very intensively. Pilot V.T. Bulgin alone in Siberia during the three years of the war transported 700 tons of various cargoes and more than 700 passengers on his plane.

The intensive supply of Li-2 and S-47 made it possible in 944 to write off a large number of obsolete equipment, including 13 G-2s. On January 1, 1945, the Civil Air Fleet had ten G-2s, two remained on June 1, and one, the last, on December 1. He, still serviceable, carried sulfur in Turkmenistan. This aircraft was written off in August 1946.


  • Aviation and Cosmonautics 2003 No. 5-6. "TB-3". /Vladimir Kotelnikov/