Polikarpov I-16 Type 18

This stubby little fighter was state of the art in the early 1930s.  It continued in use until well into World War II, when it was clearly past its prime.


After the jump, an extremely prolific Soviet fighter.

The I-16 was a successful type in the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930s.  It flew against the latest Italian and German designs, including the Bf 109 in that conflict.  That the I-16 was a mature design, at the peak of its potential; while the Bf 109 was a new type being refined, seems to have been lost on Soviet analysts.  So it would remain in full production while newer types came along slowly.


Fortunately for the Russians, conflicts against Japan in Mongolia, and Finland showed that the I-16 was indeed fading and priority shifted to newer designs in the months just before the German invasion Summer of 1941.

IMG_8627 IMG_8628

But this was still the most numerous Soviet type when war started with the Germans.  Over 1600 were in service.  That was over a third of the entire VVS (Soviet Air Force).  The result was tragic and predictable; a lot of German pilots shot down a lot of Soviet aircraft and ran up some staggering air to air results.  The top non-German Ace of all time was a Finn with 94 kills.  The Germans had over 100 aces with more kills than that.  The vast majority of this was done against the Russians.  With the I-16 as the main fighter the VVS could not protect its bombers, attack or recon types.


There were some I-16 aces.  A few pilots had the skills, experience and luck to cause some damage.  But the Eastern Front was a meat grinder.  And things wouldn’t really shift the Soviet’s way until newer types could be deployed en masse.


This subject was part of the air defense of Moscow that Summer of 1941.  Its from the Eduard kit.

These two were about as closely matched as they look.

These two were about as closely matched as they look.

Up Next: Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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5 Responses to Polikarpov I-16 Type 18

  1. Theresa says:

    Just seeing that stubby plane next to that sleek German fighter showed how out classed the Soviet Air Force was.It was a wonder they won that war.

    • atcDave says:

      One could argue that the Germans destroyed thousands and thousands of mostly obsolete aircraft, making it easier for the Russians to “phase them out”.

      But no doubt the material and personnel cost to the Soviets was catastrophic. In total numbers, no country suffered worse than the Soviet Union.

  2. Ernie Davis says:

    Not to be too harsh, but sending poorly trained troops with inferior equipment en masse against an superior enemy until the enemy exhausts himself is kind of Russian doctrine. They eventually get around to the equipment, strategy and tactics part of war, but only after they’ve exhausted all other options. It goes back to Napoleonic times, if not further.

    • atcDave says:

      As I said, it was a meat grinder.

      Just looking at the numbers of Soviet aircraft destroyed can turn your stomach. I mentioned the Germans had over a hundred aces with around a hundred kills, or more (two over three hundred). That’s over ten thousand kills, just from their top pilots (again, most of those kills were in the east. Typically when those pilots transferred west, their combat record ends with “killed by Thunderbolts…”)
      You can normally assume claims vs actual kills are inflated about two fold, but declassified Soviet records look like the Germans actually did better than that against them.
      In most air forces, you expect your top ten percent of pilots will score about ninety percent of the kills. The Soviets seem to consider those less deadly pilots to be cannon fodder. This is dramatically different from us, the British, and the Germans, who regarded all their pilots as highly trained professionals who were a part of the team, whether they scored the killing shots or not.

      You are exactly right that it’s just a completely different attitude about the value of their own trained personnel.

  3. Pingback: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 | Plane Dave

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