Aviation of World War II
An I-15 single-seater fighter on a Soviet aerodrome. Note the Hucks type mobile starter and the pilot's Irving type parachute.
RUSSIA'S AIR FORCE
Its Total Strength Still Uncertain : Influence of Foreign Design . Some Modern Types Now in Service
One of the major mysteries of the present war is undoubtedly the Red Air Force and its machines. No doubt Lord Beaverbrook and Mr. Harriman are, since their Kremlin conference, in possession of salient facts which it is not considered wise to make known at present for obvious reasons, but the world at large knows very little more than the statisticians, whose varying estimates during the past Jew years must surely have been too modest; the Soviet airmen's splendid perforniance during the conflict with the Germans strongly indicates as much.
Equally as important as the actual numbers is the question of aircraft types now being used by the Russians and here again scant information is available. But it certainly seems more than probable that they are more technically advanced than was generally supposed.
One item of information which supports the view that Soviet airmen are using up-to-date types about which they have preserved a discreet silence is that six new fighter and bomber types were demonstrated at a big parade in August of last year, about which no details have yet been released, though it seems safe to assume that the Stormovik, mentioned by Lord Beaverbrook and illustrated here, is one of them.
That gigantic strides were made in Soviet military aviation between 1934 and the outbreak of the present war is common knowledge. An authoritativs statement on the position was in fact, made by Marshal K. Voroshilov, People's Commisar of Defence of the U.S.S.R., when he spoke at the 18th Congress of the C.P.S.U. in 1939, and this was reported fully in an account of the conference speeches issued by the Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow. Some of the Marshal's figures were given in Flight ot July 3rd, in a previous article on Russia's air strength, and at the risk of repetition it will be instructive to include further extracts here.
A la HURRICANE : This is the I-26 single-seater fighter, the clean up-to-date lines of which are strongly reminiscent of our own Hurricane. It is believed to be the newest type of Russian fighter and in use against the Luftwaffe.
Reviewing the growth of the Red Air Force during the previous five years Marshal Voroshilov said that its personnel had increased by 138 per cent., and the total number oi aircraft by 130 per cent. That considerable progress had been made in design as well as numbers was shown by bis further statement that if their strength were calculated by horse-power, then the increase was 213 per cent., or 7,900.000 h.p.
Further figures showed that the major portion of the numerical increase in air strength had been in heavy bombers, which had been doubled, and in "pursuit planes" (fighters) whose proportion ot the total had risen from 12.3 per cent to 30 percent. These increases, how ever, were at the expense of light bombers and battle planes, whose proportion to the total was halved.
An interesting table on the percentage increase in the performance of the various types was also given as follows:—
Mention was also made of machine-gun fire power four times as great, and bombers capable of more than 300 m.p-h. It will not have escaped the reader's notice, however, that the discreet Marshal spoke almost entirely in percentages, leaving it to foreign journals to speculate on actual numbers of aircraft and production facilities.
Fifty Air Divisions?
It is probable that figures from an Italian source quoted by Inter Avia of July 15th this year are nearer the mark than earlier French and German estimates. This gives the Red Air Force as comprising, at the outbreak of hostilities, 50 Air Divisions ready )nr service with a total of 15.000 first-line aircraft, of which 30 per cent, were held in reserve. The proportion ol types is stated to be 45 per cent, bommbers (heavy and light), 40 per cent, fighters, and 15 per cent, reconnaissance and naval types.
The constitution of the Red Air Force is, of course, very different from our own. Before the war (there may have been necessary changes since) it was divided into two sections, the Western Air Force (European), which accounted for two-thirds of the total strength, and the Eastern Air Force, which was based in Asia and the Far East. Each Air Division was divided into three to five Regiments, which in turn were split up into groups and squadrons varying in numbers according to requirements. And each squadron, or " Atriad," consisted of 12 to 15 fighters or 6 to 10 bombers.
Naval air units (presumably included in the 50 Air Divisions) were differently organised. They were divided into brigades, groups and squadrons which varied in their numerical composition in the four different Naval Commands—namely, the Baltic, Arctic, Black Sea and Pacific commands. These naval air units were equipped with about 500 aircraft and three aircraft carriers of from 10,000 to 15,000 tons.
Additionally there were some dozens of Parachute Battalions and at least one Division of air-borne infantry.
PLAN OF ACTION. Here are some Russian Air Force officers apparently in conference. The excellent quality of their uniforms and such equipment as binoculars and map cases is evident from this picture.
As regards the aircraft themselves, it must be remembered that the development of their industry, during the past ten years or so, has been influenced by varying political circumstances. In the first place, the Treaty of Versailles, which prevented German firms building in their own country, drove Junkers. Heinkel and Dornier to Russia, together with their staffs of engineers and tooling equipment, and made a decisive contribution to the first plants of the Russian aircraft industry. It is not surprising, therefore, that until recently Russian bombers showed definite resemblance to Junkers all-metal designs.
Up to 1937 their own leading designer was Tupoleff. but he seems to have shown an unhealthy interest in things German other than Junkers aircraft, with the result that he was duly "purged." Since then, such men as Polmovsky and Polikarpoff have been responsible for many improvements and refinements in Russian aircraft, but there is no actual proof tint any of their own designs are yet in production. Even as recently as the Finnish war in 1939, the chief Soviet bomber was a Martin design built under licence. Most of the Russian planes, in fact, were either German American or French designs built under licence, or their own layouts, largely inspired by such aircraft. The same also applies to their aero engines. The M-34 liquid-cooled engine, for example, was a crossbreed of the Liberty, Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce. Russia also bought the maim facturing rights for the liquid cooled B.M.W., the Hispano-Suiza 12Y, the Wright Cyclone and the Gnome el Rhone air-cooled types.
Of, the machines in use with the Soviet air force to-day, probably the very latest type of fighter is the I-26, a photograph of which appears on p. 274. No precise details are obtainable at the moment, but it is probably fitted with the latest edition of the M-100 engine which is the Russian version of the Hispano-Suiza 12Y liquid cooled engine of 850 h.p. Another quite modern-looking fighter is the I-16 (see p. 275), which has an American inspiration and is powered by the M25, a nine-cylinder radial modelled on the Cyclone. This fighter is credited with a speed of 285 m.p.h. and a ceiling of 31,500ft.
RUSSIAN DIVE BOMBERS : Three Stormoviks taking off from a forward aerodrome. The Stormovik is one of the new types mentioned by Lord Beaverbrook.
The "I" Series of Fighters
Although a big proportion of them are probably replaced by later monoplane types by now, Russia probably started her present conflict with a great number of I-15 single-seater biplane lighters (p. 274), which certainly owe something to the French Breguet. This compact little machine has hummed across the screen during many a recent newsreel! The "I " series of Russian fighters, however, seems to have gone all Hurricane as from No. 17 onwards, as a glance at the picture of the I-26 will show. The I-17 was the first of this type and had the M-100 engine, while its successor, the I-18 was described in an American journal a few months ago as - "influenced by British design ami the best they've got." Another similar machine is the Z.K.B.-19, for which 300 m.p.h. is claimed.
The position as regards bombers is rather more obscure. One of their latest heavy types is the TB-6 fitted with four Russian-designed engines (M-34 liquid-cooled of 950 h.p.) which are supplied with compressed air by a M-100 engine in the fuselage—an unusual form of supercharging. Constant-speed airscrews and flaps are employed and the performance figures are given as, speed 280 m.p.h., ceiling 26,000ft., loaded weight 51,700 lb., and range with 4,410 lb. bomb-load. 1,250 miles.
Another heavy bomber is the ZKB 26, which is the Russian version of the Martin 139, and is fitted with either M-1000, 750 h.p. Cyclones or 1,000 h.p. M-85 radials, the last-named being Russian-built 14-cylinder twin-row Gnome et Rhone 14K engines. A maximum bomb-load of 2,200 lb is quoted for this aircraft, together with a speed of 261 m.p.h., a ceiling of 24,600 ft. and a range of 950 miles.
AMERICAN INSPIRATION. The tubby fuselage of this I-16 with its radial engine strongly features the American Gee-Bee monoplane of several years ago. The pilot, it will be noticed, sits well back.
Dive-bombers are a comparatively recent Russian development the newest being the Stormovik (more or less a la Fairey Battle) and the twin-engined Baumuster P-2 or BB-22.
Russian flying boats and float planes are, so far as is known, limited to foreign types built under licence. These are principally Domier Wal and Savoia-Machetti S-55 and S-62 types. In 1937, however, they bought a Consolidated flying-boat and a licence to build this type, which is believed to be now in production.
FORCED LANDING. This is the only picture so far to reach this country of a Baumuster P-2 (or BB-22) dive-bomber. In outline it resembles the Me 110, but its function is the same as that of a Ju 88.