Ilyushin IL-2M Attack Plane
The Soviets had been investigating the designs for a low level armored attack plane since the early 1930s. Various designs and prototypes were developed and discarded. Eventually in 1938 Ilyushin developed the Il-2 design. The prototype first flew on October 2, 1939 and won the government competition against other designs. The prototype still needed a more powerful engine and the first re-engined version flew on October 12, 1940 and was accepted for service in March 1941. Deliveries began in May 1941. The initial version of the Ilyushin Il-2 Sturmovik was a single seat low-wing monoplane of mixed construction that was specially designed for assault operations. It featured armor that replaced the frame and paneling throughout the nacelle, middle part of the fuselage and hull. The Il-2 proved to be vulnerable to fighter attack so a rear gunner was added to the Il-2M version beginning in early 1942. To keep the weight down the rear gunner was not provided with the same armor as the pilot. Rear gunner losses were high. The Il-2 went into action shortly after the German invasion in 1941. The pilots were untrained and the ground crews had no experience with the plane and losses were high. As time went on tactics and training improved the loss rate dropped and the Il-2 began to have an effect on the battlefield. They were used very extensively on the Eastern front and produced in huge numbers. Somewhere around 36,000 were produced through 1945 making it the most produced warplane ever and the second most produced aircraft of all time (behind the Cessna 172). About 11,000 were shot down. A large number survive today in museums and as monuments as well as several flyable examples. It is difficult to determine the real effectiveness of the Il-2 due to Soviet propaganda. Many of the Soviet Air Force claims vastly exceed the actual forces engaged. For example, at the Battle of Kursk the total German tank losses were 323 about 98% of them lost to anti-tank guns, mines, enemy tanks and artillery. Nevertheless, the Soviets took credit for 270 tanks in the first two hours. In another case they claimed they destroyed 240 tanks and wiped out the 17th Panzer Division. On that date the 17th Panzer Division only had a total of 67 tanks. The biggest problem with the Il-2 was that its attacks were inaccurate. Only by concentrating large numbers of Sturmoviks were they able to be effective. In general the Il-2 was not very effective against dug in and armored targets. They were effective against un protected infantry and they did have a big psychological effect. The Il-2 was armed with two forward-firing 23×152mm VYa-23 cannons, two forward-firing 7.62×54mmR ShKAS machine guns and one rear mounted flexible 12.7×108mm Berezin UBT machine gun. It could carry 1,320 lbs. of bombs and eight RS-82 rockets or four RS-132 rockets or a wide combination of bombs, cluster bombs and rockets. This model shows a Il-2M Sturmovik in typical Eastern Front camouflage in Winter 1943.