Ilyusin Il-2m3 Sturmovik

One of the ubiquitous aircraft types of World War II, the Il-2 Sturmovik was used in mass formations over the eastern front to wreak havoc on German armor.

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Let’s take a brief look at this key close support type.

With over 36000 built the Sturmovik is the most produced military aircraft in history.  If we add in the 10000+ Il-10, a slightly improved design, it is the most produced manned aircraft in history (beating out Cessna’s much produced Skyhawk family).

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It was just entering squadron service when Germany attacked in June of 1941.  Within a few days operational aircraft were rushed in to combat.  But with no specialized crew training the type suffered massive casualties for little effect.  During the rapid Soviet arms build up that followed, production of the Il-2 lagged for a while.  After a letter was sent from Stalin to the factory manager responsible stating the type was as key to the Red Army as bread or air, and current production was unacceptable; production delays seem to have been resolved and the type became available in increasing numbers.

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The Sturmovik was an unusual design. The engine, crew and fuel were housed in an armored shell.  This shell was monocoque, that is, structurally load bearing.  This was unique for a World War II aircraft, all other types with armor utilizing appliques over or inside the air frame structure.  This made for a very sturdy aircraft; but also a heavy structure that carried less ordinance than other similar sized planes.

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The Il-2 went through several upgrades during production.  The most obvious to an observer would be the addition of the rear gunner and aerodynamic improvements including a swept outer wing.  Other changes being a switch from 20 mm cannon to a 23 mm weapon; and extension of the armored shell to protect the rear gunner.  Apparently the Soviets did not officially make any change to the type designation with any of these changes, and all Sturmoviks should just be called Il-2.  Post-war western writers usually use a couple conventions to designate these upgrades; the addition of the rear gunner makes the type an Il-2m (for “modified”) while the swept wing makes it an Il-2m3.

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Analyzing the Sturmovik’s performance is not easy.  The Soviet’s did not make any meaningful data available, really at any time.  So we must rely heavily on the “losers” data* and commentary to sort things out.  German AFV crews seem to have never considered the Sturmovik a serious threat.  They always list Anti-Tank fire, enemy AFVs, artillery and mines to be far greater threats.  In one famous example, during the Battle of Kursk, Sturmovik crews claimed 270 tank kills against the 3rd Panzer Division.  The 3rd Panzer started the battle with 90 AFV, and after ten days of heavy fighting finished with 41 operational.  270 kills is clearly a bit off base!  In general, the Germans tended to regard the Sturmovik like a biting fly; it could cause some trouble but its accuracy was poor.  The biggest threat was as an observation platform.

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A Sturmovik alongside a British Typhoon. The Sturmovik clearly had better protection with its armored shell. But the Typhoon’s four 20 mm cannon are better fire power.  Also the Typhoon had eight RP-3 rockets with a 60 lb warhead; compared the four RS-132 rockets with a 2 lb warhead for the Sturmovik.  Similar American rockets had a 46 lb warhead.

The Il-2 was also used as a makeshift fighter on occasion.  Never against German fighters, but it was clearly superior to bomber or transport types when it could catch them.

A late build Il-2 Sturmovik in flight (from Wikipedia)

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Wing armament visible here consists of a 7.62 mm mg and a 23 mm cannon in each wing.  Experienced pilots preferred this firepower to the less accurate rockets and bombs.

This example is from the Tamiya kit.  What a terrific build! Fit, shape and detail are all perfect.  It represents a late build aircraft.  I’ll eventually try my hand at the Accurate Miniatures Il-2 for an earlier build aircraft.

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The rear gunner is a very improvised sort of thing.  The “seat” is a canvas and leather strap with no other sort of restraint.  Initially the gunner sat behind the armored shell and a sheet of armor protecting the mid-fuselage fuel tank. Later build aircraft, like seen here, have the armored shell extended around the gunner’s position for some protection…   but he still sits on a strap.

*  Again, my favorite bit of non-wisdom.  “Winners write the history” is demonstrably not true on multiple levels.  The Soviets never encouraged serious historical research or writing, so most serious documentation of the War in the East comes from German sources.  Now who was it that wrote about the Peloponnesian Wars…

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About atcDave

I'm 54 years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I've been an air traffic controller for 31 years; 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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27 Responses to Ilyusin Il-2m3 Sturmovik

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
    A plane that epitomizes Russia’s struggle against Germany in World War Two

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Great post again. So the Sturmovik wasn’t as feared as it was supposed to be?

    • atcDave says:

      Apparently not. It could be a nuisance and disruptive. But as far as I can tell it was never “feared” like a Typhoon or Thunderbolt.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        But then I have read somewhere that the Typhoon wasn’t that effective also.

      • Pierre Lagacé says:

        I have just read it, but not the 47 comments.

      • atcDave says:

        Rockets in WWII were just never very accurate. But British and American aircraft typically used from 8 to 12 rockets with much heavier warheads. This could cause significant damage and was far more likely to score a hit than the Soviet missiles were.
        Gunfire was generally more accurate, although of course, less useful against true heavy armor.
        Also of course, huge thing, the western allies made better use of radio. So even apart from the difference in fire power the Typhoon or Thunderbolt could call in more different sorts of support.

        Always keep in mind that claimed kills of any sort are highly suspect. Generally speaking, a pilot or gunner thinks they hit everything they shoot at. Actual accuracy was never very high.
        Even so, note the post you linked contains some misleading data. Rocket accuracy was found to be around 4% for the western allies. That means, on average, two or three aircraft would be needed to hit a tank. With a 46 or 60 pound warhead the chances of scoring a kill with that hit are fairly good. The Soviets would require four to six aircraft to have the same chance of scoring a hit (assuming accuracy was similar, which I believe it was actually inferior) and a hit was far less likely to be a kill with only a 2 pound warhead.

      • atcDave says:

        I am concerned this link may be causing some mistaken impressions. Rocket accuracy, at least for western types, was around 4%. That is way below modern expectations, but a rocket attack could still be devastating. A single Fighter Group of Thunderbolts is around 100 aircraft. So if a group, loaded with rockets went after an armored division we could be talking about 800+ rockets (assuming the most common load of eight rockets per plane. And remember this was the JOB of the 9th Air Force, all NINE Fighter Groups). That’s an average of 32 hits in a single attack. And American and British attacks generally meant one kill per hit. So a late war German Armored Division might have 60 AFVs. That means one attack, from one Fighter Group, might destroy 50% of the Division’s strength.
        Of course there’s a lot of other variables here, like how many soft skin vehicles might be targeted too, and how rarely a full Group actually attacked a single target.

        So even if fighter-bombers were never as effective as the pilots claimed they were; they still caused mayhem on the battlefield, shredded enemy divisions and annihilated smaller detachments. 4% is the historical accuracy, that means over the course of the war Typhoons and Thunderbolts DID hit 4% of the time. The most shocking thing to me is how much LESS effective the Sturmovik was than western types; with fewer, smaller, less accurate rockets.

  3. Pierre Lagacé says:

    I remember building a 1/72 scale Airfix Il-2 in the 60s.

  4. nice looking model atcDave!

  5. jfwknifton says:

    Reblogged this on John Knifton and commented:
    I enjoyed reading this article so much that I reblogged it. Originally it was written by “atcDave” and what I found especially interesting was the idea that in this particular case, history may have to be written by the losers. In the Comments section, the link provided by Pierre Lagacé is very good.

    • atcDave says:

      Thanks for this John.

      It is often eye opening how poor accuracy was in WWII. Especially rockets and dumb bombs. Guided weapons and computing gun sights were in their infancy.
      But for all that, air power did change the course of battles and campaigns. At least in the West, the Germans planned whole campaigns around avoiding enemy air power.

      “Winners write the history” is one of my pet peeves. I think it’s intellectually lazy and mostly comes from the anti-establishment shift of the 1960s.
      The first war documented by real time historians was the Pelopenessian War between Athens and Sparta. Sparta won, but it is recorded wholly by Athenian writers. All the way up to the Viet Nam war, won by the Vietnamese but more documented by American writers.
      It’s just a cop out. And sorry, a hot button for me!

  6. That rear gun looks dangerously like it could shoot the rear of the plane off!

  7. Excellent work Dave, looks like a superb build of an iconic aircraft.

  8. A terrific model you have there Dave Interesting to read the comments about accuracy. When you watch camera footage of rocket attacks, the spread of strikes is incredible, to the point that you wonder what they are actually shooting at! If the target was big, eg a building, I can imagine a fair amount of damage, but a small target such as tank, well I’d be surprised if any were hit at all. It reminds me of a slightly more potent Defiant.

    • atcDave says:

      Of course the wide spread works both ways, and in most cases only a single hit was needed.
      As with all things in World War II, accuracy was often marginal. But a lot of vehicles, including AFVs were destroyed by air attack. Whole columns were shredded and attacks stopped. It just took a lot more ordnance to do it than we would expect in a modern setting.

      • Wide spread certainly had it place, very effective as you say for columns of vehicles, trains and troops. A useful strategy in any war but depending upon the target. As you say a lot of ordnance needed though. 🙂

      • atcDave says:

        The funny thing to me is I look at modern units and am often amazed at how small they are! The brute force of WWII is sort of my “normal”. I have to constantly remind myself modern aircraft can deliver damage out of all proportion to the weight of their payload; at least compared to their WWII predecessors.

  9. Pingback: How Sure are You? | Plane Dave

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