Aviation of World War II

Home Russian

TB-3 / SPB

Long Range Bomber/SPB sistem with I-16



The Tupolev TB-3 was a heavy bomber aircraft which was deployed by the Soviet Air Force in the 1930s and during World War II. It was the world's first cantilever wing four-engine heavy bomber. Despite obsolescence and being officially withdrawn from service in 1939, the TB-3 performed bomber and transport duties throughout much of World War II. The TB-3 also saw combat as a Zveno project fighter mothership.

The «Zveno» («Flight») SPB system with I-16 fighters of Vakhmistrov. In the thirties in the Soviet Union, under the leadership of engineer Vladimir Sergeevich Vakhmistrov, work was carried out to create flying aircraft carriers. The tasks that were assigned to them changed from time to time, but the main purpose of the developed and debugged system "link SPB" was to deliver dive strikes on important small targets in the rear of the enemy, which could not be "reached" by conventional front-line bombers with a limited flight range ...

«Zveno» («Flight») was a heavy bomber TB-3 with four AM-34RN engines and two I-16 type 24 fighters suspended under its wing. A decoupling was performed in the target area, after which the I-16 struck and returned to the airfield "on their own." ... Each fighter was armed with a pair of 250 kg bombs; independent takeoff of the I-16 with such a load was hardly possible. The main technical problems in the design of the SPB link were solved in the late 1930s, but by the beginning of the war all work on the "links" had been curtailed, and they were not in service with the Soviet Air Force. Several TB-3 aircraft with dismantled installations for the suspension of fighters were transferred to the aviation of the Black Sea Fleet.

The military versions of the ANT-6 (TB-3) proved to be good in battles with the Japanese invaders at Lake Khasan and in the area of the Khalkhin-Gol River. A number of TB-3 aircraft were used for bombing strikes in the first months of the Great Patriotic War, as well as for the delivery of urgent cargo to the front line and to partisan areas.

TB-3/SPB Specification
Crew 4 8+2
Year of issue 1935 1937
Length, m 25.1 m (82 ft 4 in) 24.4 m (80 ft ½ in)
Wing span, m 41.8 m (137 ft 2 in) 41.8 m (137 ft 2 in)
Wing area 234.5 m² (2,524 ft²) 234.5 m² (2,524 ft²)
Empty weight 12,585 kg (27,745 lb)  
Loaded weight 18,877 kg (41,638 lb) 22,000 kg* (48,500 lb*)
Engine M-34RN M-34RN
Power, h.p. 4x900 4x900
Maximum speed at sea level 245 km/h (152 ml/h) 230 km/h (143 ml/h)
at altitude, km/h 288 km/h (179 ml/h) 268 km/h (166 ml/h)
H 3000 m (9,842 ft) 3000 m (9,842 ft)
Service ceiling 7740 m (25,393 ft)  
Service range 960 km (597 ml) 700 km (435 ml)
Bombs 3000 kg (6,614 lb) 4х 250 kg (4x 551 lb)
Machine guns: DA 7.62-mm ( .30 in) 4 5

* - The engines of the I-16 worked during take-off and in flight.

The «Zveno» («Flight») SPB system with I-16 fighters of Vakhmistrov. Combat Use.

The TB-3 with two i-16

Soon after the German invasion, V.S. Vakhmistrov, who worked for N.N. Polikarpov at plant No. 51, turned to the Deputy Chief of the Navy Air Force, Major General Aviation Korobkov, with a proposal to use the “links” in combat operations over the sea. The motivations were as follows:

- dive bombing accuracy is much higher than from level flight, which is especially important for destroying ships;

- fleet aviation did not have a sufficient number of modern twin-engine dive bombers;

- over the sea, where counteraction of anti-aircraft guns to aircraft carriers is excluded, and the probability of a collision with enemy fighters is small, the obsolescence of the TB-3 becomes less important;

- after uncoupling and dropping bombs, "donkeys" can quite stand up for themselves in air combat.

The arguments worked. General Korobkov applied for permission to use the "links" to the people's commissar of the Navy, Admiral N.F. Kuznetsov, and on July 22 he received the go-ahead. Vakhmistrov was immediately sent to the 62nd air brigade of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet, where in a couple of days he managed to restore the hardpoints on three TB-3s and six I-16s. In addition, at his suggestion, armor was installed on the aircraft tanks for the commander of the ship, the flight mechanic and the stern gunner, and in the aisle between the seats of the pilots they mounted a pivot mount for a pair of DA machine guns, from which the right pilot could fire.

Vakhmistrov believed that work to improve the survivability of the TB-3 should be continued and, for this purpose, he recommended replacing the ShKAS at the navigator and stern gunner with large-caliber BTs, finalizing the fuel system by protecting the tanks and supplying inert gas to them. "Donkeys", in his opinion, practically did not need alterations.

By July 1941, the only unit that had pre-war experience in flying I-16 aircraft as part of the “links” was the 2nd Special Forces Squadron of the 32nd Fighter Aviation Regiment (IAP) of the Black Sea Fleet Air Force. Its commander was Captain Arseniy Vasilyevich Shubikov. An experienced pilot, a participant in the battles over Zaragoza and Guadalajara, he wore two military orders on his chest, which in those years was considered a rarity.

Already on the first day of the war, the People's Commissar of the Navy set the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet the task "by air strikes to destroy oil tanks, workshops, ships and railway depots in Constanta and Supin ... as well as enemy coastal facilities on the Danube ..." . First of all, the enemy should have been deprived of oil, this “blood of war”, and on June 30, 1941, Major General V.A. Rusakov, commander of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet, received a direct order from N.F. Ploiesti and the Chernovodsky bridge across the Danube.

The important military-strategic significance of the Chernavodsky (modern transcription, Chernovodsky wrote during the war years. - Note, author) of the bridge was due to the following reasons. The two-story railway and road bridge, built in 1927, was located 60 km west of Constanta and was one of the largest capital structures in Europe at that time. Suffice it to say that the total length of its spans reached 750 m, and the height of the bridge at its highest point was 75 m above the river level.

From the west, a flyover almost a kilometer long adjoined the bridge. A railway line passed through it, connecting the main centers of Romania with the coast, and under the lower flooring of the bridge, the Ploiesti-Constanta pipeline was laid (three lines, one of which flowed first-class gasoline, which set in motion Wehrmacht tanks and Luftwaffe aircraft).

The role of Romanian oil for Germany, which started a war on two fronts, could hardly be overestimated. As early as the autumn of 1940, a German aviation mission began its work in Bucharest, headed by General V. Speidel (on June 24, 1941, he was replaced by General B. Gerhardt). The task of its personnel was to coordinate the efforts of the Romanians and Germans to jointly cover the oil-producing regions from the air. With the outbreak of hostilities, the 40th Air District was formed as part of the German 4th Air Fleet under the command of General G.R. Manna. Its active air defense systems consisted of several anti-aircraft artillery regiments (partially Romanian), as well as Bf 109E-7 fighters from JG52 (as of June 22, the headquarters and III squadron group led by Major Blumensaat were based in the Ploiesti-Constanta area).

Soviet bombers for the first time "honored their attention" to Constanta in the late evening of June 22, 1941 (three DB-3s and six SBs), and over the next day, 73 of our aircraft attacked the city and port. On June 24, 18 DB-3s and the same number of SBs took part in the raid. 12 FAB-500s, 66 FAB-250s and 100 FAB-100s fell on oil terminals, an oil town and an airfield. All groups returned without loss, and according to the crews, one of the enemy fighters, who tried to attack them, "left with smoke towards the sea." Having underestimated the enemy's ability to resist, the Fleet Air Force command undertook another attack in the afternoon. This time the crews of 32 SB and DB-3 were intercepted by Messers 30-40 km from the target and suffered heavy losses. Ten vehicles did not return, nine of which were shot down by German fighters. The Soviet "hawks" could not cover their bombers due to the great remoteness of the strike targets.

Two days later, the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet provided a raiding operation of Soviet warships to Constanta. At the same time, the leader of "Moskva" and nine SBs from the 40th bap were killed. In total, during the first month of the war, 25 air raids involving 191 aircraft were carried out on the most important Romanian port. Since mid-July, naval DB-3s, together with the same type of vehicles from the 4th Air Corps of the Red Army Air Force, began regular night raids on oil refineries in Romania. So, on July 13, as a result of the impact of six DB-3s on Ploiesti, a giant fire broke out at the Unirea oil refinery, which lasted three days.

By this time, III / JG 52 went to Ukraine, and the thinned I (J) / LG 2, commanded by the famous ace Hauptmann G. Ilefeld, landed at Romanian airfields. The group consisted of less than two dozen Bf 109E-7s and, after fierce fighting, was withdrawn for rest and replenishment.

After the Soviet crews mastered the Pe-2 dive-bombers that entered the fleet, on August 1, 1941, these machines took part in the attack on Constanta for the first time. The six from the 40th BAP were led on a mission by the squadron commander, Major I.I. Morkovkin. Approaching the target at an altitude of 4500 m, the “pawns” bombed the ships in the base in turn. According to the reports of the crews, a transport and a tugboat were sunk in the port. German fighters again put up stubborn resistance, but failed to shoot down a single Pe-2. However, after landing at the Kachinsky airfield, all the planes of the Morkovkin group needed to be repaired, and more than 80 holes were counted in one of them!

It should be noted that by the beginning of August, the air defense system of the Constanta-Ploiesti region was seriously strengthened. The enemy managed to establish a clear interaction between fighters and anti-aircraft artillery, and on the probable directions of approach of Soviet bombers 50-100 km from the coast during daylight hours, sentinel He 111 and Bf 110 were continuously patrolling. pilots. And although the memoirs of high-ranking German officials from the air force mission in Romania (in particular, General von Waldau) published after the war emphasize the relatively low effectiveness of “Russian strikes on oil fields in the Constanta and Ploiesti region,” Hitler’s directive sounds dissonant to this, in which, in early August, the most important task for the Army Group "South" was "to capture the Crimean peninsula, which is an air base for raids on Romanian oil facilities."

Despite fierce opposition, air raids on the Romanian oil fields continued. As for the Chernavodsky bridge, the first attempts to destroy it by the forces of the 63rd air brigade of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet did not give positive results. And no wonder: after all, bombing at narrow targets, like a bridge, from level flight (otherwise SB and DB-3 could not bomb), as a rule, is ineffective. The airspace around the bridge was declared by the Germans as a no-fly zone, and anti-aircraft gunners were ordered to open fire on any aircraft approaching the bridge, and therefore our crews were always subjected to fierce fire on the combat course. Suddenness could not be achiev

In early August, the command of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet decided to inflict another blow on the Chernavodsky bridge and allocated for this a group of five DB-ZF long-range bombers from the 2nd mtab and six Pe-2 dive bombers from the 40th bap. In addition, the group included three "SPB links".

The combat effectiveness of the "links" was tested during the bombardment of Constanta on July 26th. Then one pair of I-16s successfully attacked the oil town, and the other - the floating dock. After dropping the bombs, the donkeys were intercepted by a pair of Bf 109Es, but the dogfight turned out to be fruitless. The Germans managed to shoot down only the MBR-2 flying boat, allocated for the search and rescue of the crews of Soviet aircraft that participated in the attack on the Romanian port.

An important circumstance that emerged during the analysis of the results of the raid, for Colonel V.N. Kalmykov, who was entrusted with the leadership of the entire operation, was the need to increase the fuel supply of fighters in case of a possible air battle in the target area and for a guaranteed return from the Chernavod area . Calculations showed that the fighters needed about a hundred more liters of gasoline each. Otherwise, the episode with the forced landing of one of the "SPB" could be repeated, which did not fly only 30 km to the Odessa airfield.

For this purpose, the technicians of the 32nd IAP under the guidance of a military engineer of the 3rd rank P. Telepnev prepared for the I-16 suspended ventral tanks with a capacity of 93 liters (bombs were carried under the wing on regular holders). Gasoline from external tanks was produced in the first place, after which they were dumped.

In the early morning of August 10, three heavy bombers with I-16s suspended under their wings took off from the airfield in Evpatoria and headed for the mouth of the Danube. The lead TB-3 was piloted by Senior Lieutenant S. Gavrilov, Captain A. Shubikov and Lieutenant B. Litvinchuk were in the cockpits of the fighters. The second link is the commander of the aircraft carrier, Major E. Razenko, in the "donkeys" - Senior Lieutenant B. Filimonov and Lieutenant I. Kasparov. The third link, due to a malfunction of the TB-3, returned to its airfield without completing the task.

At 05:10 abeam the Georgievsky arm, 15 km from the shore, under the wing of the carriers, yellow and green light signal lamps alternately lit up, which meant “get ready” and “cut off”. Four fighters separated from their carriers and headed towards the target with a decrease.

In the report of the German air force mission in Romania, further events were described as follows:

On 08/10/1941, Soviet aircraft, operating from an altitude of 3000 to 4000 m in a cloudless sky, attacked Chernavody three times, dropping about 17 bombs on the city. The apparent target of the strike was the bridge over the Danube, as two bombs hit it, lightly damaging the power beams and supports and igniting the pipeline. Traffic on the bridge was interrupted mainly due to fire. The refinery was also slightly damaged.”

Note that among those who attacked the bridge, the Germans noted the participation of SB and DB-3 bombers, but did not say a word about fighters! Meanwhile, it was they who achieved the greatest success.

The DB-ZF were the first to reach the target, but none of the FAB-500s they dropped hit the bridge. At 05:35 it was the turn of the donkey pilots. They attacked in turn, diving from a height of 1800 to 300 m, not paying attention to the fire of anti-aircraft guns. Each dropped two FAB-250s, the fuses of which were set to 0.1 - second slowdown. The explosions took place so close that all the planes "caught" fragments of their own bombs. The perception of the hunters exaggerated the amount of damage inflicted on the enemy. Boris Litvinchuk, a participant in the raid, wrote: “The bulk of the central span is collapsing into the water, and everything around is burning, even water. She was lit by floating oil. They also destroyed the pumping station located on the shore.

The six Pe-2s, who completed the attack on the bridge, had the hardest time. Anti-aircraft guns of medium and small caliber fired heavily, and four German fighters appeared in the sky. Nevertheless, the “pawns” achieved one hit on the bridge with the FAB-250 bomb and managed to return to their airfield without loss. In the German report, the Pe-2 attack also went “unnoticed”, but all the damage to the bridge was attributed to the SB-2 seven, which allegedly bombed the object from a height of 500 m. In fact, the SB bombers did not take part in the strike.

Shubikov's four landed safely at the airfield near Odessa and were preparing to fly to Evpatoria, when German planes flying to bomb the city appeared in the sky. I had to take to the air and drive away the enemy bombers, and then, after refueling again, return to the base in the Crimea.

The photo control of the results of the raid dotted the "i": the bridge was indeed damaged, a fire broke out, but the Romanians quickly managed to take it under control, and then liquidate it. The collapsed span was not observed in the photographs, and traffic on the bridge was restored by the evening of the same day, and therefore, in the evening message of the Soviet Information Bureau of August 11, 1941, the wishful thinking was presented as valid.

Probably, the report about the destruction of the bridge came "upstairs" immediately after the return of the planes and was made on the basis of reports from the crews participating in the operation. The situation for the commander of the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet, Major General Rusakov, was very unpleasant, so a second raid was scheduled for August 13, not paying attention to the "doubtful" number. This time, only "SPB units" were allocated for the bombing of the bridge, which demonstrated the highest accuracy of bombing.

Start from the airfield in Evpatoria was given at 03:30. The TB-3 aircraft were piloted by senior lieutenants S. Gavrilov, Ognev and lieutenant Trushin, in the cockpits of the I-16 captain A. Shubikov, senior lieutenant B. Filimonov and lieutenants P. Danilin, I. Kasparov, S. Kuzmenko and D. Skrynnik. At 05:40, a decoupling was made 15 km from the coast, and after only ten minutes, the “donkeys” were already diving in pairs on the target from a height of 1800 m. This time the success was complete: the crews noted five (!!) direct hits by FAB- 250 into the bridge and one explosion 30-40 m from it. According to updated data and photographs taken later, it was possible to establish that as a result of the bombing, one 140-meter truss of the bridge was completely destroyed and the oil pipeline was again broken.

Practically on the entire route of independent flight of fighters to the target, anti-aircraft installations fired, but the Soviet aircraft did not receive any damage. Having fired at the anti-aircraft gun crews at the exit from the dive, the donkeys left the bridge with a climb of 1500 m and landed at the Odessa airfield at 07:05. After refueling, the fighters returned to their Yevpatoriya airfield on the same day.

A few hours after the successful attack on the bridge, Yuri Levitan read the following lines: “As noted in the evening report of the Soviet Information Bureau of August 11, Soviet pilots destroyed the Romanian railway bridge ... near Chernovo-da station ... Operation the destruction of the Chernovodsky bridge was led twice by the order-bearer comrade. Shubikov. A group of Soviet aircraft approached the Romanian coast at high altitude in several echelons. About 60 km remained from the seashore to the bridge ... The units dispersed into links and, one by one, walking along the bridge, began to drop bombs on the bridge from a dive. Anti-aircraft installations guarding the bridge opened fire. But at this time, a link of Soviet aircraft at a strafing flight fell on the Romanian gunners. One battery went dead. Two minutes later, the second battery opened fire. But on the second approach, a flight of our aircraft put her out of action too ... The bridge was destroyed. Soviet pilots brilliantly completed their combat mission...”

The information war, as we see, also concerned the tactics of using aviation. In the message, its compilers did not say a word about flying aircraft carriers, but colorfully described fictitious details about "several echelons" of bombers and a method of suppressing enemy anti-aircraft guns.

Having examined the control photographs, General Rusakov was quite satisfied: this time the bridge really turned out to be destroyed for a long time. On the same day, by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, Captain Shubikov was awarded the Order of Lenin, the first in the Navy since the beginning of the war.

Success, as you know, gives strength and generates hope. Vakhmistrov, in his letter to General Korobkov, dated August 13, 1941, proposed expanding the scale of the combat use of "links" and, for this purpose, bringing the number of TB-3 aircraft to ten, and suspended fighters to forty. He wrote: The SPB Link should have a significant effect in operations against tank columns. In these cases, at shorter distances, one TB-3 can serve 3-4 pairs of I-16 aircraft, lifting them to a height of 400-500 m, pair by pair ... ". In addition, Vakhmistrov proposed using a "link" in the fleet's air defense system in order to increase the duration of fighter duty in the air.

But General Korobkov, who had previously studied the possibility of obtaining several TB-3s from the Red Army Air Force, in his report to the People's Commissar of the Navy did not recommend increasing the grouping of "links": "The Navy Air Force has 12 TB-34AM-34RN aircraft, of which 5 aircraft are already equipped with suspensions eng. Vakhmistrov. The remaining 7 aircraft I consider more appropriate to use as transport aircraft. It is impossible to count on receiving at least 10 TB-34AM-34RN aircraft from the KA Air Force, since these aircraft were taken out of production as early as 1937 and were produced in very limited quantities (about 150 units).”

At the beginning of the next year, 1942, the TB-7 bomber was taken out of production.

Having lost almost all bases in the Crimea, the aviation of the Black Sea Fleet was forced to operate from the only Sevastopol airfield on Cape Khersones and from air bases located on the Caucasian coast. The situation became so complicated that the fleet was no longer up to experiments with the "links". And soon the mass production of twin-engine Pe-2 bombers partly removed the problem of hitting small targets from a dive. The idea of ​​a composite aircraft once again died, only to be reborn many years later, but in a new guise.

As for Captain Shubikov and his comrades who bombed the Chernavodsky bridge, most of them had tragic fates. "SPB Links" several times (at least five) took to the air to strike at columns of German troops and important objects in the immediate rear of the enemy. On the land front, outdated TB-3 aircraft tanks, together with suspended SPBs, risked becoming victims of enemy fighters every minute. Shubikov himself more often had to fly out in the role of a "regular" fighter, covering the actions of his colleagues.

On October 2, 1941, in the Perekop area, a group of "donkeys" led by Captain Shubikov entered into battle with German fighters. The enemy this time turned out to be exceptionally strong: the Bf109Fs from III/JG77 were superior to the Soviet I-16s in all respects, and real aces sat in their cockpits. For Oberleutnant Lasse, the victory won that day was the 41st in a row, and for Oberleutnant Ubben it was the 40th*. Three times order bearer Captain Shubikov did not return to his airfield on October 2, 1941 ...

* In addition, according to the reports of the Germans on that day in the Perekop area, Soviet aviation lost three more fighters (for some reason, in all cases, MiG-3 and I-153 type aircraft are indicated), while they themselves admitted the loss of only one Bf109E-7 sergeant K. Ameln from II / JG77.

Alexander Medved, Dmitry Khazanov.

Photo Description

Drawing TB-3 with M-17F engines

The «Zveno» («Flight») SPB system with I-16.

The «Zveno» («Flight»). SPB system with I-16 fighters of Vakhmistrov.

TB-3 in flight

Oleg Lisachev collection


  • "The history of designs of planes in USSR 1938-1950" /Vadim Shavrov/
  • "Planes of Stalin falcons" /Konstantin Kosminkov and Dmitriy Grinyuk/
  • "aviAMaster #8 1984 " /Al. Medved, Dmitriy Khazanov/
  • "Soviet aircrafts " /V.E. Judenok/