Aviation of World War II
P-47 "Thunderbolt" in the Soviet Union
In terms of the number of "Thunderbolts" received, the Soviet Union ranks fourth. William Green in his fundamental work "Warplanes of the Second World War" speaks of 203 Thunderbolts sent from the USA to the USSR of the , 196 aircraft, according to Green, reached to the recipient.
Information from the archives of the General Staff of the Air Force of the Soviet Army does not differ much - 190 P-47 fighters were received in 1944 and five - in 1945. Apparently, the Soviet archive did not take into account one more aircraft - P-47D-10-RE Serial number 42-75202 Purchased with funds raised by US Senators, this aircraft received its own name "Knight of Pythias". It was he who was tested in mid-1944 at the Air Force Research Institute and LII.
"Thunderbolt" disappointed Soviet test pilots. One of the best flight engineers at LII, Mark Lazarevich Gallay, recalled the flight on the P-47 this way:
- Already in the first minutes of the flight, I realized that this is not a fighter! Stable, with a comfortable spacious cockpit, comfortable, but not a fighter. "Thunderbolt" had unsatisfactory maneuverability in the horizontal and especially in the vertical plane. The plane accelerated slowly - the inertia of the heavy machine affected. The Thunderbolt was perfect for a simple en-route flight without harsh maneuvers. This is not enough for a fighter.
The opinion of the Soviet aviation engineers about the Thunderbolt was not much different from the pilots. Despite the sleek shape of the fuselage and the apparent perfection of aerodynamics, the Thunderbolt's Cx coefficient turned out to be less than that of the main German Bf.l09G and Fw-190A fighters. Interest was not aroused by the aircraft itself, but by the turbocharger (first of all!), The engine, and aviation equipment. The plane was disassembled to pieces and carefully examined at the Bureau of New Technology of the People's Commissariat of the Aviation Industry (BNT NKAP). BNT specialists have published a complete technical description of the R-47 fighter in Russian. Engineers also drew conclusions regarding the quality and manufacturing methods of components and assemblies of the American fighter, noting that in terms of technology, the Soviet aviation industry lags behind the American one. Combat pilots of the Red Army Air Force also did not appreciate the overseas miracle. The Soviet Union did not have the slightest need to escort heavy bombers in 1944 - the front-line aviation bore the entire burden of the war. Air battles on the Soviet-German front were fought at altitudes below 6,000 m, exactly at those altitudes where the Thunderbolt most resembled a flying target. At low altitudes, the P-47 lost in all respects to any Soviet or German fighter of the 1944 model. An interesting fact is that it is possible that the Americans tried to improve the maneuverability of the "Soviet" Thunderbolts by supplying them with already removed external machine guns. In fact, the Thunderbolt repeated the story of the Soviet MiG-3 fighter - an excellent air fighter at high altitude and clumsy at the ground. Such an aircraft in the Red Army Air Force during the war years turned out to be unclaimed. Of course, it should be borne in mind that the opinion of Soviet pilots and engineers was formed on the basis of assessments of the P-47D-10-RE fighter. Under Lend-Lease, the P-47D-22-RE and P-47D-27-RE aircraft equipped with more powerful R-2800-59 engines were supplied. In the West, it is widely believed that the Russians simply tested the wrong car, and the P-47D-22 and P-47D-27 arrived too late. That is unlikely. The entire course of the air war on the Eastern Front suggests that heavy high-altitude fighters did not take root here. Even the Fw-190, a fighter that was famous for its maneuverability on the Western front, turned out to be heavy and awkward. In the Red Army, all high-altitude fighters were "floated" into the air defense regiments. First, such a fate befell the MiG-3, then the Lend-Lease Spitfires, and finally the Thunderbolts. The only place where they appeared a year earlier, "Thunderbolts" could still show themselves, was the aviation of the navy. Most of the Thunderbolts arrived in the Soviet Union via a 26,000 km southern route (the journey took 42 days) from New York to the Persian port of Abadan. In Abadan, the planes were assembled under the supervision of military representatives of the Red Army Air Force, then flew around, after which the pilots of the 6th Ferry Fighter Aviation Regiment drove Thunderbolts along the Abadan-Tehran-Kirovobad route. In Kirovabad, the 11th reserve bomber aviation regiment took over the aircraft. On the 1,450 km route, the pilots had to overcome two mountain ranges. With a stopover in Tehran, the length of the non-stop flight to Kirovobad from Iran was reduced to 754 km.
The first Thunderbolt fighters arrived at the airfield of the 11th ZBAP on August 24, 1944. On this day, the regiment received Order No. 30, which noted the adoption of the P-47D fighters equipped with R-2800-59 engines. -22-RE with serial numbers 42-25611 and 42-26633. Large-scale deliveries began a little later. According to orders No. 36, 38 and 39 of December 22, 1944, the unit entered service with P-47D-22-RE aircraft with serial numbers 42-25541, 543-7, 552, 553, 555, 557, 559, 560- 564, 566-568, 570, 574, 576-580, 582, 583, 586, 591, 594, 595,600-610, 612,614-617, 619-628, 631, 634, 636-638 - 62 aircraft in total. At the same time, 47 P-47D-27-RE fighters with serial numbers 42-27015, 018, 019, 021, 0222, 025-029, 031-033, 037, 038, 042-044, 050, 052-055 were adopted, 058, 061, 116, 117, 123, 129, 130-132, 134, 140, 141, 144, 149, 150, 154, 156, 157, 159, 160, 162 and 163. Thus, the 11th ZBAP received 111 Thunderbolts.
In 1945, the Thunderbolts arrived at the location of the 11th ZBAP in two batches, on April 21 - two P-47D-27s produced at the Fairmigdale plant (serial numbers 42-27136 and 42-27146) and on April 27 - four more similar fighters (serial numbers 42-25S51, 587, 590 and 593).
All stories about the delivery of "Thunderbolts" to the Soviet Union by northern convoys through Murmansk or along the Alaska-Siberia highway are pure fictions. The R-347 fighters arrived in the USSR only by the southern route through Iran. The technical specialists of the Red Army Air Force modified (or even changed) the Thunderbolt radio stations to match the frequencies used in Soviet aviation; transponders of the "friend or foe" radar identification system were removed as unnecessary. The identification marks on the P-47D-22-RE were repainted in the Soviet Union - red stars with a white-red border were applied. On the P-47D-27-RE intended for delivery to the USSR, red stars were applied directly at the Ripablik plant. As a rule, they were applied in the same dreams and the same sizes as the US Air Force insignia, often a red star was painted in a white circle. The 11th ZBAP consisted of four squadrons - on the basis of the 1st and 2nd, training of bomber crews was conducted, on the basis of the 3rd and 4th - training of fighter pilots, mainly for P-39N / Q aircraft. In the official documentation of the 11th ZBAP, the P-47 fighter is called "Thunderbolt". The number of pilots trained in the regiment for flights on "Thunderbolt" is small: 12 pilots in 1944 and 15 in 1945.
Until the end of the war in Europe, the P-47 fighters did not appear in service with the front-line units of the Red Army Air Force. Almost all Thunderbolts entered the fighter regiments of the South-Western Air Defense District. This powerful air group was formed on December 24, 1944 to cover the communication lines of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Ukrainian fronts in Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. The first 11 Thunderbolts (ten P-47D-22-REs with serial numbers 42-25544, 547, 555, 557, 564, 570, 604, 610, 622 and 638, one P-47D-27-RE with serial numbers 42-27026) arrived at the Belaya Tserkov airfield located 50 km south of Kiev on May 31, 1945. In June 1945, the fighters were assigned to the aviation regiments. On June 12, 18 more P-47D-22-RE aircraft (serial numbers 42-25543, 560, 563, 678, 593, 600, 601, 605, 606, 609, 611, 614617, 619, 621, 628, 633 and 634) and one P-47D-27-RE with serial number 42-27038. On July 11, the third batch arrived: 17 P-47D-22-RE aircraft (serial numbers 42-2552, 556,567, 580,582,583,691, 594,602,603, 607, 616, 624-627 and 631) and two P-47D-27-RE with serial numbers 42-27132 and 42-27154.
P-47 fighters did not remain in service with Soviet air defense units for long. According to the lend-lease agreement, most of the aircraft were returned to the Americans. The "Thunderbolts" were concentrated at the Stryi airfield (80 km south-west of Lvov), where they were handed over to the US representatives. The Americans considered it economically impractical to drag back the pile of fighters that had become unnecessary. It was decided to render the aircraft unusable for flight; tanks were the best tool for such work. The destruction of the Thunderbolts took a long time - the whole winter of 1945-46.
In the aviation of the USSR Navy, the P-47 fighters received the 255th IAP of the Northern Fleet Air Force. The Thunderbolt was not the first American aircraft mastered by the regiment's pilots. In 1943, the 255th IAP was rearmed with Bell P-39 Airacobra fighters of the N and Q modifications. Soviet naval pilots successfully fought on "Cobras", so on July 16, 1943 Lieutenant V.A. Burmatov in P-39N shot down Hans Döbrich of II./JG-5, an expert with 65 wins. The 255th IAP received the first P-47D-22-RE on October 29, 1944.
The command of naval aviation decided to double-check the results of flight tests of the P-47D-10-RE at the LII. The USSR Navy aviation did not have its own test base, so it was decided that experienced front-line pilots from the 255th IAP would test the Thunderbolt.
Test flights were carried out from October 29 to November 5, 1944, while the possibility of basing "Thunderbolts" at polar airfields was investigated. Despite the tight deadline, the test program looked very busy:
- takeoff and landing from concrete and unpaved strips with full load;
- determination of the combat range with different types of bomb load on the external sling: 2xFAB-250 (on the bomb on the underwing pylons), ZkhFAB-250 (two bombs on the underwing and one on the ventral pylons), 2xFAB-500;
- dive bombing;
- topmast bombing from a height of 20-25 m at a distance of 150-170 m from the target.
The test results were generally favorable. The plane with two FAB-250 bombs took off normally from the Vaenga airfield. The bombs were dropped in a dive at an angle of 50 degrees from a height of 3000 m, aiming during bombing was carried out using a standard machine-gun sight. Bombing with three FAB-250 or two FAB-500 was considered possible to be performed only from level flight. Below is an excerpt from the P-47D-22-RE Thunderbolt Test Report.
From the Commander of the Northern Fleet Air Force, Lieutenant General of Aviation Preobrazhensky No. 08489 of November 13, 1944
Report to the Commander of the USSR Navy Air Force Marshal Zhavoronkov I report that based on the results of testing a serially built P-47D-22-RE Thunderbolt aircraft, I decided to arm one squadron of the 255th IAKP with 14 Thunderbolt aircraft.
The squadron will perform the following tasks:
1. long-range escort of bombers
2. horizontal and low-altitude bombing based on a bomb load of up to 1000 kg per aircraft
3. attack of convoy escort ships
Marshal Zhavoronkov put a resolution on the document: “I approve. Re-equip the regiment. Allocate 50 aircraft. " In the 255th IAP "Thunderbolts" (mainly P-47D-27-RE with drop-shaped flashlights) were in operation for a year after the end of the war, longer than anywhere else in the USSR.
The sea "Thunderbolts" completed their journey almost the same way as their counterparts from the air defense units - in a ravine on the outskirts of Vaenga under the tracks of tractors.