Hindsight clearly reveals three significant outcomes of the Russian experience in the air war with Germany, namely: a virtual lack of appreciation for the strategic significance of air power (a neglect apparent from the beginning of military aviation in the Soviet Union); a methodology throughout the war of adopting the German Luftwaffe model; and the ability to improvise and generate tactics of their own.
A sound understanding of the geography and history of the Soviet Union answers the armchair historians’ questions as to why the Russians didn’t exploit aviation as a strategic component of their military. It made little sense for a great continental power to experiment with aviation, particularly when she was so perilously close to defeat at the opening of the war. The primacy of the land component was played out in full in the Great Patriotic War. As one authority has pointed out, the war in the east was determined on the ground by the Wehrmacht and the Red Army and it was an “army show”. Neither the Luftwaffe nor the Red Air Force played more than a supporting role, although a valuable one at times.
Napoleon had also terribly miscalculated the vastness of the Russian plain and their strategy of warfare. He too had breached the defenses of Borodino (his Smolensk) and expected unequivocal surrender from the Czar. Hitler’s Barbarossa made provisions for an operational culminating point at Smolensk, but unlike Napoleon, he felt victory would be his predicated on the technological edge Germany held at that time. The relative edge diminished as the Russians mobilized and industrialized in a fashion unparalleled in history.
The fact that the development and manifestation of the Soviet Air Force should so closely parallel that of the German Luftwaffe is quite understandable, particularly in light of their very early joint ventures. Mutual needs were served, and the Russians felt no compunction to be different for changes’ sake. Russian tactics did tend to be systematic and fixed in character, but improvements were made in all aspects of their operational procedures.
The Soviet pilots grew in self-assurance and aggressiveness. The fighter forces improved and perfected air-to-air tactics; the ground attack units continued their time-proven persistent approach, contributing decisively to breaking the German momentum; and the bombers started to proliferate later in the war – with increased all- weather capability and better targeting devices. Luftwaffe General, D. Walter Schwabedissen, summarizes eloquently:
the Soviets continued to employ their air power primarily to serve the purpose of operations on the ground. The rapid decline of the German air power potential, the progressive development of the Soviet air forces in all fields, their growing combat experience, and their vast numerical superiority enabled them to make a vitally important contribution towards final victory.
Ilyushin II-4. Among the bombers, only the major Soviet model is generally classified as a heavy bomber. The twin-engine Ilyushin II-4 was a superb aircraft, with more than 5,000 produced between 1937 and 1944, mostly during the final three years of production. The prototype design dates to 1935, and hard lessons learned during the Red Army invasion of Finland during 1939-40 resulted in improvements to armor protection. Nevertheless, later models of the aircraft replaced many metal parts with wood, which was easier to come by during the war. The II-4 served with the Red Army Air Force as well as with Soviet Naval Aviation, and it was naval pilots who flew the first Soviet air raids over Berlin on August 8, 1941. The aircraft served to the end of the war, although in the final months its age was showing, and it was relegated mainly to glider towing.
General specifications of the II-4 included two 1,100-horsepower M-88B radial piston engines, a wingspan of 70 feet 4 ¼ inches, and a top speed of 255 miles per hour. Service ceiling was 32,810 feet. Defensive armament consisted of 0.5-inch machine guns in the nose, in a dorsal turret, and in ventral positions. The II-4 carried up to 2,205 pounds of bombs or three 1,102-pound torpedoes and was crewed by four.
Like the Germans, the Soviets produced more light to medium bombers than heavy bombers. The three most important were the Tupolev SB-2, the Tupolev Tu-2, and the Petlyakov Pe-2.
Tupolev SB-2. Familiarly called the Katyusha, the Tupolev SB-2 was first flown on October 7, 1933. Intended as a high-speed bomber, it was at the time one of the Tupolev organization’s most advanced designs, based on a heavy fighter airframe rather than a bomber. Construction was all metal and, in service during the Spanish civil war, its 255-mile-per-hour speed outflew many enemy fighters-until the appearance of the German Bf- 109 fighter. A total of 6,656 SB-2s were built up to 1940, and some remained in service until 1943, despite heavy losses to the Bf-109s.
The SB-2 was driven by twin 850-horsepower M100 V-12 piston engines to a top speed of 255 miles per hour and a service ceiling of 27,885 feet. Its range was a modest 746 miles. Wingspan was 66 feet 8 ½ inches, and defensive armament consisted of two 0.3-inch machine guns in a nose turret, one in a dorsal turret, and one in the ventral position. Bomb capacity was 2,205 pounds, and the plane was crewed by three.
Tupolev Tu-2. First flown in October 1940, the Tupolev Tu-2 went into production beginning in 1942 and, with the Petlyakov Pe-2, emerged as the most important Soviet bomber of the war. This medium bomber had a maximum speed of 342 miles per hour and had a range of 1,243 miles. It was 45 feet 3 inches long with a wingspan of 61 feet 10 inches. Bomb load was an impressive 6,614 pounds. Along with the Petlyakov Pe-2, the Tupolev Tu-2 was used in large numbers during the war, and some of these aircraft remained in Soviet service during the postwar years, flying in the Korean War with North Korean forces. During the early 1960s, the Tu-2 continued to fly with the Chinese air force and with the air forces of other communist countries. Its general specifications included a power plant consisting of two Shvetsov Ash-82fn 1,850-horsepower 14 cylinder radial engines making a top speed of 342 miles per hour over a range of 1,553 miles. Defensive armament was two 20- mm ShVAK cannon in wing roots and three 0.5- inch UBT machine guns, two in dorsal positions and one in the ventral position. As mentioned, the bomb load was 6,614 pounds. The aircraft was crewed by four.
Petlyakov Pe-2. This aircraft was produced in a light-bomber configuration and, like the Pe-3, in a fighter configuration. The Pe-2 is generally judged the most important light Soviet bomber of the war, and a total of 11,427 Pe-2s and Pe-3s were produced. By the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, only a few hundred Pe-2s had come off the assembly lines. As they reached the front in greater numbers, however, German fighter pilots despaired, because the fast and nimble aircraft was difficult to catch and destroy. The Pe-2 benefitted from continual improvements made in direct response to meetings with frontline pilots. By late 1942, more crew armor and better armament had been added. The ShKAS 7.62- mm dorsal and ventral guns were replaced by Berezin UBT 12.7-mm guns. A turret replaced the hand-held dorsal gun position, and the nose was redesigned to enhance bombardier protection and efficiency.
The final specifications for the aircraft included two 1,100-horsepower Klimov M-105R V-12 piston engines, which made a top speed of 335 miles per hour. Wingspan was 56 feet 3.5 inches, and service ceiling 28,900 feet. For a light bomber, range was excellent at 932 miles. Bomb load was 2,646 pounds, and the plane was crewed by three.
The Red Air Force suffered devastating losses during the opening weeks of the German invasion. Many planes were destroyed on the ground, while others, mostly obsolete or obsolescent, were shot out of the skies by superior German fighters. American and British aircraft were rushed to the Soviets to help make up for the losses, even as the Soviet aircraft industry went into high gear and began turning out some excellent fighters. Certainly, the early losses were devastating, but they also forced a rapid modernization of the Red air force, which threw impressive designs into the fray.
VVS Unit Designations
[prefix][general – “A”][suffix]
A – Aviatsionnyj (-aja) – Air
V – Vozdushnaja [Armija] – Air [Army]
E – Eskadrilja – Squadron (ex. AE)
P – Polk – Regiment (ex. AP)
D – Divizija – Division (ex. AD)
K – Korpus – Corps (ex. AK)
A – Armija – Army (ex. VA)
Most used prefixes:
I – Istrebitelnyj – Fighter (ex. IAP)
Sh – Shturmovoj – Stormovik (ex. ShAD)
B – Bombardirivochnyj – Bomber (ex. BAK)
R – Razvedyvatelnyj – Reconnaissance (ex. RAE)
S – Smeshannyj – Mixed (SAD)
O – Otdelnyj – Separated (ex. OAE)
Gv, G – Gvardejskij – Guards (ex. GvIAD)
K – Krasnoznamennyj – Red Banner (ex. OKIAE)
M – Morskoj – Naval (ex. MRAP)
MT – Minno-torpednyj – Mine&Torpedo (ex. MTAP)
N – Nochnoj – Night (ex. NBAP)
U, UT – Uchebnyj, Uchebnotrenirovochnyj – Training
Z – Zapasnoj – Reserve
LB – Legkobombardirovochnyj – Light Bomber
SB – Skorostoj Bombardirovochnyj – Speedy Bomber
TB – Tjazhelobombardirovochnyj – Heavy Bomber
DB – Dalnebombardirovochnyj – Long-range Bomber
T, Tr – Transportnyj – Transport
DBA – Dalnebombardirovochnaja Aviatsija – Long-range Bomber Air Force (ex. Soviet DBA)
ADD – Aviatsija Dal’nego Dejstvija – Long-range Air Force (ex. 101 AP ADD)
VA – Vozdushnaja Armija – Air Army, Air Force (ex. 13 VA)
VVS – Vojenno-Vozdushnyje Sily – Air Force (ex. 5 IAP VVS KBF)
PVO – Protivovozdushnaja Oborona – Air Defence (ex. 7 IAK PVO)
KBF – Krasnoznamennyj Baltijskij Flot – Red Banner Baltik Fleet (ex. 1 GvIAD KBF)
SF – Severnij Flot – Northern Fleet (ex. 72 SAP SF)
ChF – Shernomorskij Flot – Black Sea Fleet (ex. 5 GvMTAP ChF)
TOF – Tikhookeanskij Flot – Pacific Fleet (ex. VVS TOF)
ON – Osobogo Naznachenija – Special Tasks
SpetsNaz – Spetsial’nogo Naznachenija – Special Tasks
KAE = Korpus Aviatsionnyi Eskadrilja = Corps Aviation Squadron, like the 22nd KAE in the Northwestern Front in June 1941.
For other units, KAE appears to mean Correction Aviation Squadron – as in artillery direction – an example, the 103rd KAE on the Northern Front in June 1941.
Indeed KAE could be even Krasnoznamjonnaja Aviatsionnaja Eskadrilja – Red Banner Air Squadron.
Actually, as I saw it, in the Russian _documents_ the names of the units are presented simply: just AE, AP etc. – without additional prefixes (like Englishmen use the “Sqn.” for all squadrons). The prefixes were used not often – and usually were used in the postwar publications.
So, in doubtful cases the meaning of the prefixes should depend of context.
SANAP Medical Regiment
Peregon AP Ferrying Regiment
MTAP Mine Torpedo Regiment
MRAP Naval Reconnaissance Regiment
MRAE Naval Reconnaissance Squadron
OAO Separate Aviation Flight
VU Radio control (for remote control speedboats)
TOF Pacific Ocean Fleet
STOF Northern Pacific Ocean Fleet
OMBAP-PV Independent Border Guards Patrol Regiment