Aviation of World War II

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Airplanes of Luftwaffe at the Soviet Scientific Research Institute

In all, about 3500 Russian designers and engineers had an opportunity to familiarize themselves with German aircraft in 1940.

The main center for testing the German airplanes was the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute. In the period from May to October 1940, He 100, Bf 109E and Bf 110C fighters, Do 215B and Ju 88A-1 bombers, and Bucker 13ID, Buck er 133, Fw 58B and Fw 58C trainers were test flown and examined there. Military pilots Dolgov, Dudkin, Kabanov, Kovalchuk, Nikolayev, Suprun, and other-carried out the trials.

Based on test results, A. I. Filin, Chief of the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute, prepared a special report containing a detailed comparative analysis of Soviet and German military airplanes. It pointed out that He 100, Bf 109, and Bf 110 aircraft significantly surpassed our basic I-16 fighter in speed, but, with the exception of the He 100, were slower by 40-60 kilometers per hour than the newest Soviet 1-26 (Yak-1), 1-200 (MiG-1) and 1-301 (LaGG-1) fighters. As for the bombers, it turned out that the Soviet SB and DB-3F were slower than the German bombers, although the gap here was smaller than in the case of the I-16 "...The Dornier-215 and Junkers-88 bombers in the German Air Force inventory are quite modern bombers, despite their seemingly ugly appearance," Filin wrote. But, once again, the Soviet "100" (Pe-2) and BB-22 two-engine bombers which had just begun flight-testing, were faster.

Thus, the new generation of Soviet combat aircraft not only was not inferior to analogous German aircraft in speed, it even outperformed them. Unfortunately the production of these aircraft began only in 1940. By the end of that year, the Soviet Air Forces only received 64 Yak-Is, 80 MiG-ls and 1 Pe-2. Meanwhile, the Messerschmitt and Junkers planes were produced in the thousands.

Luftwaffe and USSR Aircraft Specifications*
Fighters Bf 109 Bf 110 He 100 I-16 I-26 I-301
Crew 1 2 1 1 1 1
Loaded weight, kg 2585 6510 2445 1879 2700 2968
Wing loading, kg/m² 158 169 169 169 154 168
Engine power, hp 1050 2x1000 1100 900 1050 1050
Speed at sea level, km/h 440 440 566 440 490 515
Maximum speed, km/h 547 525 650 489 586 605
Rate of climb, m/sec 6,3 8.4 4.7 5.2 6.0 5.8
Ceiling, m 10,000 9500 10,000 10,800 10,200 9600
Landing speed, km/h 129   149 130 135 140
Bombers Ju 88 Do 215 SB DB-3F Pe-2  
Crew 4 4 3 3 3  
Bomb load, kg 1400 500 500 1000 600
Loaded weight, kg 10350 8631 6348 8000 7658
Wing loading, kg/m² 197 157 112 122 189
Engine power, hp 2×930 2×1100 2×960 2×1100 2×1100
Speed at sea level, km/h 365 390 360 362 452
Speed at altitude, km/h 445 455 413 425 540
Climbing rate, m/sec 18.0 10.8 9.3 10.3 9.0
Ceiling, m 7400 8800 9350 10,050 8800
Range, km 2200 1605 1330 3300 1315

Note:* Based on Air Forces Scientific Research Institute Test Results

Examination of the German aircraft also demonstrated that Luftwaffe aircraft noticeably surpassed Soviet aircraft where operational performance was concerned. An Air Forces Scientific Research Institute report pointed out the following:

1. A characteristic special feature of all German aircraft is that, in designing each type, the designer pays a great deal of attention to greatly facilitating the operation of airplanes under field conditions and to convenience in accomplishing combat missions. For that purpose, a number of automatic devices facilitating the pilot's work are part of the aircraft design...

2. The second characteristic special feature of German aircraft is the wide introduction of standard examples of armament, special equipment, power plant components, aircraft parts, and materials. Such measures simplify the design of experimental airplanes, facilitate maintenance and spare parts supply, and assist in the training of Air Forces flight personnel.

3. In addition, all German airplanes in the Air Forces inventory greatly differ from ours in their large robust capacity, thus also significantly increasing flight safety and aircraft survivability as well as making aircraft handling easier and aircraft assimilation by poorly qualified front line pilots simpler. Besides that, the fact that they are fitted with fiber self-sealing fuel tanks considerably increases their survivability in combat.

4. All German combat aircraft also feature a large number of castings made from magnesium alloys and, at the same time, these alloys are used in highly loaded structural elements of the aircraft and engine...".

The advantages of German aircraft were seen not only in the convenience of their flight operations, but also in their ground servicing. For instance, it took 4 minutes to remove a propeller from a Ju 88 and 1 hour to do this on the SB. It took 1.5 hours and 4.5 hours, respectively, to remove the engine, while installing it took 3 and 10 hours, respectively.

The fuel injection system of the DB 601A engine, which made it possible to apportion the fuel supply to each cylinder more accurately and excluded the danger of fire when backfires occurred, was positively appraised by Soviet specialists, as were the high-lift devices, flight control and navigational equipment, radios, and weapons placement.

Based upon examination of German aircraft at the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute and other R&D institutions, several steps were taken in 1940 to introduce some German technical solutions into the Soviet aircraft industry. The following were among the most important:

1. Automatic dive recovery control device mounted on the Ju 88 was put into production at Plant No. 213 in Moscow. These devices were later used on the SB, Ar-2, and Pe-2.

2. Use of fiber self-sealing gasoline tanks instead of rigid welded tanks. By 1940, 100 soft self-sealing tanks were made for the SB, 30 for the Su-2, and the same number for the Yak-1. In 1941, the decision was made to mass produce fiber tanks to replace the metal ones previously used.

3. Creation at TsIAM of a two-stage single-entry radial supercharger of the type installed on the DB 601A engine. In contrast to single-stage superchargers used in our country, this supercharger provided the engine with a higher altitude capability.

In addition, many minor, but useful, improvements were introduced into new aircraft designs: quick-detachable propeller spinner of the type applied on the Bf 109 and He 100; newly designed cowling and hatch-cover fasteners that could be opened without using tools; mechanical undercarriage position indicator ("tell-tales") on the wing seen on the He 100; reference marks and points on the aircraft body; tail wheel lock mechanism providing improved landing run stability; course setting sight for defining the moment of dive entry (Ju 88); and others. The DB-3F bomber was fitted with a thermal defroster like the one on the Ju 88. Ejector exhaust pipes of a German type were fitted on another Soviet bomber, the DVB-102. Experimental production of webbed casings for wheel brakes and liquid sheet radiators of the type used on the Me 110, Ju 88, and Do 215 began. Plant No. 217 plant began producing SP-1 bombsights based on the German Lotve-7B bombsight used for level bombing.

In their reports, the specialists pointed out that German airplanes have better high-lift devices and, therefore, with large wing loads, their landing speed is lower than that of Soviet new-generation fighters. The plan in 1940 was to mount a system of trailing-edge flap emergency extensions and automatic leading edge flaps on the MiG-1, TIS, and SK-3 airplanes (of the type used on He 100 and Bf 109 fighters). Already after the war, O. K. Antonov used the examination of a German Storch airplane when he designed his famous An-2. Like the Fi 156, the An-2 had extremely efficient high-lift devices. The upper wing had automatic leading-edge flaps along the entire span, trailing-edge flaps, and drooping slotted ailerons.

After seeing the German aircraft, the military began to demand that radios be mounted in all airplanes. At the same time, they insisted that measures be taken to enhance aircraft directional stability (in particular, due to insufficient stability, the I-28 fighter V. P. Yatsenko designed did not pass state testing).

On Soviet trainers, the instructor and student sat in tandem. After examining the German twin-engine Fw 58 in which both crewmembers sat side-by-side, the suggestion was made to A. S. Yakovlev to modify his UT-3 in this manner. On the eve of the war, the Yakovlev Design Bureau was working on a UT-3 version with widened cockpit, but this never came to fruition.

Testing of German aircraft and studying how they were employed in wartime led not only to design changes in Soviet airplanes, but also had an impact upon the fate of some of them. For one, in May 1940, the decision was made to develop the "100" (Pe-2) airplane, designed as a high-altitude fighter, into a front-line dive-bomber. Owing to the fact that, at the beginning of the Second World War, Germany had no operational four-engine bombers and managed to do without them, production of the Soviet Pe-8 (TB-7) heavy bomber was very limited and eventually was halted in 1940, since there was no clear requirement for it. In 1941-44, only 93 Pe-8s were built.

In conclusion, let us attempt to answer two questions: 1) why, not long before the attack on the Soviet Union, did the German leadership allow Soviet specialists access to the latest types of aircraft and even buy them so they could be studied; 2) what did the technical and economic cooperation with Germany in 1939-1941 do for the development of Soviet aviation?

To answer the first question, let us turn to statements of people who participated directly in the events described. Their opinions essentially coincide.

Deputy People's Commissar of the Aviation Industry A. S. Yakovlev, an aircraft designer, said that: "...The Hitlerites, blinded by their successes in the subjugation of Europe, could not imagine that Russians were able to compete with them. They were so sure of their military and technical superiority that, while revealing the secrets of their aviation, they thought only about how to strike us even harder, shake our imagination, and intimidate us".

A. I. Shakhurin, People's Commissar of the Aviation Industry: "Knowing of the coming war against us, the Fascist leadership evidently believed us incapable of doing anything. In any case, anything like what they had. There was one more aim—on the eve of war to intimidate us with the might and perfection of their combat aviation".

A. I. Petrov, Deputy Chief of the Air Forces Scientific Research Institute (in 1940-1941, Chief of TsAGI): "...The Germans had a developed plan for a rapid war with us and, openly displaying the might of their military equipment, tried to crush our morale, being absolutely sure that we would be unable to make use of the received information and take any measures to counter them".

To this can be added that Germany received raw materials it badly needed to wage the war-gasoline, ore, cotton, and so forth - in return transferring to the USSR isolated examples of military equipment (but not the technology to produce it!).

Now for the influence of the cooperation upon Soviet aviation. Soviet designers could not and were not preparing to copy the German aircraft for they knew that, thanks to the difference in the development of technologies, this would be unrealistic (as it is now impractical to copy Japanese cars and TV sets, and put them into quantity production in a couple of years). Besides, there was no particular need to do so. Tests showed that the new-generation Soviet combat aircraft such as the Yak-1, MiG-1, LaGG-3, and Pe-2 not only did not take a back seat to the German aircraft; they surpassed them where speed was concerned. Moreover, examination of German aircraft in the USSR provided an opportunity to introduce a number of technological and operational innovations into domestic constructions (self-sealing tanks, improved robustness, wide use of radios, and so on).

But, the main thing lay in something else. Detailed familiarization with the German aircraft industry finally dispelled the myth of the might of Soviet aviation and compelled adoption of extraordinary measures to improve it. We already addressed the efforts made in 1939-1941 to develop the Soviet aviation industry. They provided positive results. By the beginning of the war, production volumes reached 50 aircraft a day, some 2000 airplanes of new types developing speeds exceeding 500 km/h had been built, and series production of the armored IL-2 ground-attack aircraft begun.

Just as the Germans figured, we lacked the time to modernize the aircraft fleet completely before the war broke out. But, the way had been paved for mass production of modern airplanes. In 1943, the Soviet Air Forces already surpassed the Luftwaffe not only quantitatively, but qualitatively as well.


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