Aviation of World War II

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Li-2. Combat Use.

"Black Death"

The first PS-84, right from the tests at the end of December 1939, went to the North-Western Front, to the Finnish border. Throughout the winter, the wounded were transported to the rear hospitals. Subsequent machines were preparing to work on peaceful roads.

By January 1, 1940, Aeroflot launched one PS-84 on the Moscow-Irkutsk line. Three more machines were being prepared for operation on the same track. As of June 15, there were already more PS-84s in the GVF fleet than DC-3s (12 versus 11). Routes to Tbilisi and Ashgabat were mastered. In total, in 1940 civil aviation received 19 PS-84s. One of them crashed into the ground near Novosibirsk on August 7 in bad weather. A crew of four, led by commander M.I., was killed. Tyutyaev and 14 passengers, three were injured. Together with the machine, government bonds worth 600 thousand rubles, transported with mail, burned down. Another PS-84, piloted by Kazentsev, also in bad weather, crashed into a mountain. The operation of the PS-84 was held back by the small resource of the M-62IR engines. They had to be changed frequently, and spares were often missing. As a result, the machines were idle.

But gradually the use of "Douglases" in the Civil Air Fleet expanded. By December 1, 1940, seven territorial directorates had 23 aircraft of this type. For example, the Northern Directorate in Leningrad received the first PS-84 on 19 November. Then a second one was added to it. These machines were operated on the Moscow-Leningrad line, opened on January 20, 1941. Most of the PS-84s, seven, worked on the Moscow-Irkutsk highway, which was called the "highway". By the summer of 1941, they were already operating on 12 lines of Aeroflot, having flown 18,000 hours in six months (for the entire 1940 - 9,500 hours).

In Front-Line Air Groups

By the beginning of the war with Germany, Aeroflot had 72 PS-84s. Another 49 copies belonged to the Air Force, five - to naval aviation and several machines - to the NKVD. Immediately after the German attack on the Soviet Union, most of the civilian PS-84s were assembled in separate air groups and detachments. As of June 25, they had 68 PS-84s and DC-3s, including 51 as part of the Moscow Special Purpose Air Group (MAGON). By July 29, there were already 96 PS-84s in five air groups and three detachments. These aircraft took part in many important operations of the initial period of the war. They delivered cargo and reinforcements to the front, took out the wounded and evacuees, dropped reconnaissance and sabotage groups behind enemy lines, and delivered cargo for encircled units and formations.

In October 1941, MAGON planes took part in the hasty deployment of the 5th Airborne Corps to the Orel area. PS-84 transported 5440 people and 12.5 tons of cargo. In early October, they flew to about. Dago in the Baltic Sea. Fuel and ammunition were brought there, and the wounded were brought back. They only flew at night. Similar work was carried out by the Douglases of the Air Force and Naval Aviation.

In the conditions of German dominance in the air, unarmed aircraft suffered heavy losses. For example, on July 7, 1941, in the Rogachev area, German fighters attacked and burned a machine carrying a self-igniting KS liquid used against tanks. Two days later, while returning from Velikiye Luki, the PS-84 pilot Andreev was intercepted. The plane caught fire and managed to land, the crew escaped. On July 13, right above the Velikiye Luki airfield, enemy fighters shot down a machine loaded with ammunition. She exploded in the air. To the losses from the direct actions of the enemy was added the damage from accidents and mistakes of Soviet anti-aircraft gunners and fighters. So, in July 1941, in the Murmansk region, their own anti-aircraft artillery shot down two PS-84s; among the crew members there were wounded. Sometimes pilots showed real heroism by saving planes. In the machine of the pilot Frolovsky, a bottle with KS liquid burst in flight, a fire started in the cabin. Crew members threw the flaming boxes overboard and put out the fire.

During the retreat, damaged aircraft had to be blown up or burned. Only units of the Civil Air Fleet by August 1, 1941 lost 16 vehicles. Six of them were shot down or destroyed on the ground by the Germans, three by our own and seven had to be written off due to accidents.

Unarmed aircraft initially flew during the day, even across the front lines. The crews sought salvation from fighter attacks in a strafing flight, descending to a height of 50 - 75 m. The qualifications of the pilots allowed this, since at the beginning of the war the best were sent to the front. But such tactics led to an increase in losses from fire from the ground. The vulnerability of aircraft also increased due to the habit of civilian pilots to use highways and railways as landmarks, since the German troops moving along them had a significant amount of air defense systems. Especially a lot of PS-84s were damaged over the Warsaw highway. Later, the pilots began to choose routes over sparsely populated areas, disguise themselves with clouds and fog, and cross the front line at an altitude of 2000 - 2500 m. Gradually, the crews gained experience in maneuvering, began to use sharp turns and dives. It was not superfluous to equip the aircraft with defensive weapons.

Already in September 1941, armed PS-84s appeared at the front. On September 6, four German fighters pursued Pantelli's plane. The top gunner Novitsky shot down one Bf 109. The second fighter tried to come closer, but was driven away by the mechanic Dumnov, who fired from the onboard machine gun. Several more cases of successful use of defensive weapons are known. The shooter Tolokonov shot down a Bf 109 near Kharkov, Shanga - in the Volkhov region. The pilot Steigerwald himself went on the attack on the Ju 88 bomber, which was bombing the train near the Khorolsk station. His shooter Surkov managed to damage the German plane and disrupt the bombing. The same crew fired at a German convoy in the Sukhinichi area and destroyed a machine and about 20 soldiers. The pilot Bibikov landed in the location of the encircled unit under fire from mortars and even small arms. Pilot Sukhorkin's plane descended and suppressed enemy fire with machine guns. Bibikov safely took off under the cover of the second machine, taking away the wounded.

The installation of weapons changed tactics. When flying during the day, in the event of an attack by enemy fighters, the pilots performed a sharp descent with a retreat to the nearest forest or into the folds of the terrain. This made it possible to defend only the upper hemisphere. The second option was to go into a spiral or turn, which made the shooter's job easier. Pilot Ilyin's plane in the area of ​​Lisok was attacked by Ju 88. The pilot performed a turn, substituting the enemy under the gunner Yatsuk's machine gun, who set fire to an enemy bomber from a distance of 200 m in a long burst. True, the PS-84 also returned with numerous holes and wounded crew members.

In early October, PS-84 began to operate on the "air bridge" to the surrounded Leningrad. On average, they transported about 150 tons of food per day, sometimes up to 200 tons. Usually the crew made two sorties a day: the first time they took off before dawn, the second time they landed at dusk. Women and children, valuable specialists, as well as guns and mortars, which continued to be produced by Leningrad enterprises, were brought back. In an effort to save as many people as possible, the planes were mercilessly overloaded. PS-84 sometimes carried 35 - 38 people - almost double the norm. They flew even when, due to bad weather, German aircraft sat on the ground. MAGON alone took out more than 29,000 people from the besieged city.

We flew in groups of up to ten aircraft at low level flight. They were built in a wedge and went at low altitude in a tight formation. Sometimes the group was accompanied by fighters, sometimes not. The Main Directorate of the Civil Air Fleet reported to the Kremlin: “The large losses of PS-84 aircraft are largely due to their insufficient escort by fighters when flying in the front line. So, in the first half of October, there were only up to 10 fighters to cover the PS-84 aircraft, which performed 30-50 flights to Leningrad. German fighters operated from ambush sites in the Ladoga area. The plane of the pilot Taran in the Mga region was fired upon by them. Both pilots were seriously wounded. The battering ram with a broken leg nevertheless brought the machine to the besieged city. By October 1, the total losses of the Civil Air Fleet amounted to 36 PS-84, by the end of the year - already 69 (40 of them were destroyed by the enemy). Mass flights to Leningrad continued until January 1942.

Since the delivery of new machines by industry stopped, by the end of 1941, almost all PS-84s that civil aviation had were sent to special air groups and detachments to compensate for losses. In January-February 1942, during the counteroffensive near Moscow, PS-84s landed a number of large airborne assault forces behind enemy lines, in particular, near Vyazma. The landing was thrown out during the day under the cover of fighters. Aircraft took off from forward airfields one by one with an interval of 5-10 minutes. To reset, they made two or three circles over the target. Paratroopers jumped from a height of 200 - 400 m. Enemy fighters loitered in the drop areas. Despite the active actions of the escort, a rare transporter returned home without holes. The plane of the pilot Mikheev was shot down. During the night, the crews made up to four sorties. The intensity was determined mainly by the time for refueling and loading cars.

Later, aviation supplied parts of the 4th airborne corps of General Kazankin and the cavalry-mechanized group of General Belov, who operated behind the front line. They flew at night, making two to four flights per night. At the same time, the crews spent 8-10 hours in the air every day. Parachute bags PDMM and fuel tanks PDBB-100 were thrown manually from the doors. Cargoes in special packaging were dropped without parachutes from a height of 70-80 m.

Only from January 21 to February 24, 1942, the GVF air groups lost 25 PS-84s, 16 of them in the week from January 29 to February 4 in the Kaluga region, and seven more were damaged. Including nine machines burned by German aircraft at advanced airfields.

On January 20, the head of the Main Directorate of the Civil Air Fleet B.C. Molokov reported to Stalin: "A particularly difficult situation has developed in the air groups with PS-84 aircraft flying to the fronts and territories occupied by the enemy. The fleet of these air groups has damage from enemy fire in the amount of 50% of the payroll. One Moscow air group has losses - 64 aircraft. Replenishment of the loss of PS-84 aircraft is possible only through the restoration and repair of wrecked aircraft, tk. the supply of new ones, due to the evacuation of plant No. 84, has ceased."

On May 13, 1942, the Civil Air Fleet had 83 aircraft, the Air Force - 53. Almost four-fifths of the latter were concentrated in a special purpose regiment, the rest were attached to front headquarters or were in educational institutions. The third place in terms of the number of PS-84 fleet was occupied by the NKAP - 26 vehicles. They carried out urgent transportation of components to factories. A relatively small number of aircraft were at the disposal of the GUSMP, the NKVD, the People's Commissariat of the Tank Industry and other departments.

In April, the formation of transport regiments of the Air Force began. This meant a radical change in the concept of military transport aviation in the USSR. Previously, in peacetime, it did not exist as such. There was only a squadron (later a regiment) for special purposes near Moscow, which partially performed transport functions, and small transport detachments in the districts. If necessary, the military rented civil aviation equipment. In the event of war, all suitable aircraft of the Civil Air Fleet were going to be mobilized for transportation, and the provision of landing operations was entrusted to bomber aircraft. But by the early 1940s. the already accumulated experience of military campaigns led the Air Force to the need to have its own transport aircraft, with special equipment and crews trained for the transfer of troops and airborne assault forces. However, the lack of modern aircraft made it possible to realize this idea only in 1942.

Two regiments were formed - the 101st and 102nd, with a staff of 20 PS-84s in each. They were united in the 1st transport air division. It was commanded by a woman - the famous pilot B.C. Grizodubova. On April 22, 1942, the first two crews of the division made a raid on the partisans. But already in July 1942, the division was considered necessary to transfer to the ADD.

By this time, three areas of application of Li-2 were clearly defined: transportation of urgent cargoes in the rear (they were provided by the Civil Air Fleet and departmental aviation), transportation to the front and behind the front line (here they worked as special air groups of the Civil Air Fleet, later reorganized into regiments and divisions , and the Air Force) and night bombing (which became the main task of the ADD, but GVF aircraft were occasionally involved in it).

Relatively little remained in the rear of the Li-2. Here, the main burden of work lay on obsolete machines that could no longer be used on the front line - G-2 (disarmed TB-3), PS-9 and others. Significantly more machines were involved at the front. In June 1942, almost all of MAGON was transferred to Krasnodar, from where planes flew to the besieged Sevastopol. The main task of the pilots was the evacuation of the garrison. The landing site at the Chersonese lighthouse was fired upon by German artillery. Nevertheless, the planes managed to take out 2174 people.

The Li-2 made its debut as a night bomber in the summer of 1942.

On June 24, vehicles of the 1st transport division bombed the Shchigry station. Like the Li-2 bombers, they had both their advantages and their disadvantages. They could not boast of either speed or maneuverability. But the crew worked in much more comfortable conditions than, say, on the IL-4. Spacious cockpits, dual control, which allowed the pilots to change each other, a lounge where, if necessary, one could rest, good instrumentation made the aircraft very convenient for long-range raids. True, the low quality of wartime products made its own adjustments. For example, there were complaints about the system for washing the visor glasses with an alcohol mixture. “Due to leaks in the window frames ... alcohol flows into the cockpit and often wets pilots' clothes .... During a change in flight altitude, alcohol comes out through the filler neck and floods the radio operator.”

The behavior in the air of a somewhat inert, but obedient to the pilot, former liner favorably distinguished it from the unstable, exhausting IL-4 pilots. In terms of defensive armament, the Li-2 and Il-4 were approximately equal, although the Douglas had absolutely no space behind the plumage and under the fuselage.

The use of Li-2 in the ADD was constantly expanding. In 1942, she received a total of 221 aircraft. In August-September, regiments of the 53rd and 62nd divisions, previously armed with TB-3s, began to switch to new equipment.

Li-2 as night bombers were actively used in November - December 1942 in the battles for Stalingrad. Starting from the jump airfields, in the dark they approached the Volga, where searchlights from the left bank indicated the bombing strip. Soviet troops held only a narrow strip along the river. Therefore, the planes immediately began to free themselves from the bomb load.

A load of 1000 kg was determined for the maximum range, so on the "short arm" the machine could take much more. Additionally, they took small bombs into the fuselage. They were thrown through the doors by hand. With a shortage of bombs, any scrap metal was loaded, for example, railway crutches were dropped onto the trenches of the German infantry. Hand grenades were also used.

The crews of the 102nd ADD regiment destroyed important crossings across the Don, making it difficult to supply enemy units. There was a case when the "night lights" raided during the day. The 62nd Division was ordered to attack the Pitomnik airfield inside the encirclement in order to prevent the possible flight of the 6th Army command, led by Field Marshal Paulus. The order was carried out, but the division lost five vehicles shot down by enemy fighters and anti-aircraft gunners.

In the same Battle of Stalingrad, PS-84s provided the transportation of urgent cargo, reinforcements and the removal of the wounded. The 102nd regiment alone delivered 800 tons of cargo and 1448 people to the front, and evacuated 5220 wounded on return flights. During the counteroffensive, transport aviation partially provided fuel for tank units that had pulled far ahead.

The receipt of aircraft from the factory already significantly exceeded the losses. In total, 423 machines were produced in 1942. During the same period, the ADD lost 52 Li-2s (29 of them for combat reasons), the Civil Air Fleet - 47. From the middle of the year, aircraft became mainly victims of anti-aircraft artillery. To reduce losses, not only sorties with bombs, but also transport flights in the frontline zone, they tried to make at night and at high altitudes.

In 1943, the intensity of the use of Li-2 in combat operations increased. First of all, due to the fact that there are simply more of them. The industry delivered 618 aircraft during the year, of which the ADD received more than half - 369. In July - October 1943, the rearmament of the long-range regiments, previously equipped with TB-3, was completed. The formation of new regiments on the Li-2 also began. Losses also increased, primarily in parts of the ADD. The latter lost 160 aircraft, 105 of them were destroyed by the enemy. The Civil Air Fleet suffered to a much lesser extent, losing 42 Li-2s at the front. But 46 machines crashed in the rear. The reason lay in the fact that the front took the best shots. Hastily learned wartime pilots remained in the rear. And in general, there were much fewer aircraft in the Civil Air Fleet - the entire fleet of this department in December 1943 included 90 Li-2s. The priority of the ADD and the Air Force in the supply of equipment led to the fact that the Civil Air Fleet received almost three times fewer aircraft than planned.

In most cases, Li-2s, as bombers, acted in small groups against area targets. They went to the bombing site in a column at short intervals. The lead aircraft illuminated the object with SAB lighting bombs. Each crew aimed independently. If the target was covered by anti-aircraft batteries, the Li-2 with such tactics often brought home holes, but in general the machine was distinguished by outstanding survivability.

In September 1943, Li-2 and C-47 from the ADD and GVF landed a large airborne assault on the Bukrinsky bridgehead on the right bank of the Dnieper. Three brigades dropped by parachute at night. The loss of orientation by the aircraft crews and intense anti-aircraft fire led to the fact that the paratroopers scattered over a large area or even fell into the river. The paratroopers suffered heavy losses.

By February 1944, Li-2s were already in use in three ADD corps - 5th, 6th and 7th. They were involved in massive raids on the cities of Finland. Only Helsinki was bombed three times in a row. Li-2 from airfields on the Karelian Isthmus made up to three sorties per night. In September, similar raids by large bomber formations were carried out against targets in Hungary.

Until the end of the war with Germany, Li-2s were actively used as bombers and transport aircraft. In June 1944, the Air Force, ADD and Civil Air Fleet had a total of about 650 Li-2s. Despite the air superiority achieved by Soviet aviation, the enemy continued to put up stubborn resistance. The ADD regiments suffered the most significant losses in December 1944, when Li-2s took part in raids on the cities of East Prussia. The powerful and well-organized German air defense shot down up to 20 aircraft per night!

The Civil Air Fleet also lost equipment. In 1944, 15 Li-2s were written off there, nine of them from the front-line regiments. On March 8, 1944, the Germans shot down two planes at once. One managed to sit down, and he burned down already on the ground, the other fell and crashed with the entire crew. Basically, the machines were destroyed at the airfields. So, on September 7, 1944, a pair of German FW 190 fighters stormed the Beloverzhishki airfield, where the 120th regiment was stationed. Among the burnt aircraft was one Li-2.

On average, approximately 670 flight hours passed before the death or write-off of the machine. At the same time, the annual flight time was about 500 hours. Thus, the aircraft lived in the war for a little over a year. But the losses were more than compensated by income from industry. Therefore, the number of aircraft grew in both military and civil aviation. As of April 1, 1945, the ADD had 546 Li-2s. This month they again bombed Koenigsberg, while on April 7-8 - in the daytime.

By the end of the war, the Li-2 became the most massive aircraft of the 18th Air Army (which the ADD was transformed into) - 19 regiments flew them. In total, long-range aviation received 1214 aircraft of this type during the war.

But at the end of the war, the use of Li-2 as bombers was less and less common. They gradually switched to freight transport. In operations against Japan, the Douglas was used only as a transport. Two divisions on Li-2 and C-47, deployed from the west, plus units from Transbaikalia and the Far East, landed landing troops at airfields in Manchuria and supplied fuel to advanced mechanized detachments. Aviation also delivered cargo to the south of Sakhalin.

MAGON - Moskovskaya aviagruppa osobogo naznacheniya - Moscow Special Purpose Air Group

ADD - Aviatsiya dal'nego deystviya - Long range aviation

GVF - Grazhdanskiy vozdushnyy flot - Civil Air Fleet

PS-84- Passazhirskiy samolet - Passenger plane (The first licensed DC-3, produced at the Moscow plant No 84)

Through the Front Line

Throughout the war, Li-2 flew through the front line. Landed scouts, delivered cargo to the encircled units and partisan detachments. On the instructions of the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, flights were made to the occupied territory and even further - to Poland, East Prussia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Austria. The 1st Air Transport Division (former MAGON) alone delivered 850 agents behind enemy lines. For these raids, four pilots were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

The first flight to the partisans with landing behind enemy lines was completed in September 1942, and mass transportation began in 1943. The chronicle of these tasks includes many bright pages. The pilots were constantly looking for ways to cross the front line in the safest possible way. They constantly raised the height, gradually reaching 4000 m. They launched colored rockets, imitating the signals of German pilots. They flew over the occupied territory with headlights on, as if over their own airfield. The already mentioned pilot Taran, changing the pitch of the propellers, achieved a peculiar sound inherent in German aircraft engines.

It didn't always help. On the night of August 18-19, 1943, pilot Bogdanov's plane was attacked by five enemy fighters at once when returning home. He left and sat down at his airfield, but the mechanics counted more than 1,500 holes in the machine, including 12 from small-caliber shells. Li-2 returned with a jammed rudder, broken hydraulic system, leaky oil tank, inoperative left aileron and trim tabs. On the left plane, the plating hung in shreds. And on May 27, 1943, two German night fighters shot down pilot Dubrovsky's machine in the Lyudinov area. There was also such a case when the Li-2 pilot Bulatnikov, lined with anti-aircraft artillery, sat on his belly among the swamps behind enemy lines. The crew repaired the machine for a week and took off on it when the Germans had already crept up to the landing site.

In September 1944, three divisions of the ADD participated in the organization of the "air bridge" to the insurgent Slovakia. On September 16, planes began to land regularly at the Three Oaks airfield on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains. Li-2 delivered more than 80 tons of cargo per day. They moved anti-tank guns and rifles, rifles, submachine guns and machine guns, cartridges and grenades. They brought food and medicine. On September 28, several companies of the Czechoslovak airborne brigade with artillery landed from the Li-2. They went straight into battle. The Germans, who did not expect this, rolled back 30 km. Flights to Slovakia were constantly interfered with by enemy fighter aircraft. At the same time, Li-2s suffered relatively fewer losses than unarmed C-47s.

After the War

Although since the spring of 1945, the Li-2 was inferior to the American C-47 in terms of the number of aircraft in civil aviation, this situation could not be maintained for a long time - after all, deliveries from the United States ceased. Indeed, the ratio began to change rapidly. Then this process slowed down due to the intensive formation in the Air Force in 1946-1947. airborne regiments, which were supposed to ensure the transfer of rapidly growing airborne troops. But the Li-2T paratroopers were no longer satisfied: the capacity was too small, the impossibility of transporting wheeled and tracked vehicles.

As a bomber, the aircraft was no longer considered. When in April 1946 they began to form the Long-Range Aviation armies, each of them included a Li-2 regiment, but a transport one.

By January 1948, the Li-2 again pressed the C-47 in Aeroflot - 323 aircraft against 228, and they continued to arrive. At the end of the year, civilian pilots already had 522 aircraft of this type. By this time, the new IL-12 had become the most prestigious aircraft of the Civil Air Fleet; there were over a hundred of them. In the Air Force, "Americans" remained more, due to the fact that the military managed to get a much larger share of spare engines. Although they also began to receive the IL-12, the proven Li-2 remained for some time the most massive transport vehicle of the Air Force.

Il-14 appeared, and then a new generation of turboprop and turbojet aircraft. They gradually replaced obsolete machines from the foreground. But the "old man" Li-2 continued to fly on local lines. In the Air Force, it was used for training purposes, as well as for secondary transportation.

In the post-war period, the Li-2 managed to take part in hostilities abroad. They were involved in the provision of Soviet air units operating in South China in the early 1950s. A little later they worked in Korea, and in 1956 in Hungary. Li-2s were intensively used in the Air Force and Civil Air Fleet until the first half of the 1970s.

Individual machines survived until the early 1980s.


  • "Transport aircraft Li-2" /V.R. Kotelnikov/