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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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…
Reblogged this on My Forgotten Hobby and commented:
A plane that epitomizes Russia’s struggle against Germany in World War Two
Great post again. So the Sturmovik wasn’t as feared as it was supposed to be?
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.
But then I have read somewhere that the Typhoon wasn’t that effective also.
I have just read it, but not the 47 comments.
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.
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.
I remember building a 1/72 scale Airfix Il-2 in the 60s.
I don’t remember a 1/48 kit until Accurate Miniatures in the late ’90s.
Wow! Nice job.
nice looking model atcDave!
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.
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!
That rear gun looks dangerously like it could shoot the rear of the plane off!
Yeah I don’t think there was any protection from that sort of accident. There were a few things done by the end of the war on American aircraft to avoid that, but the Sturmovik is a pretty crude beast.
I still can’t get over the strap/seat.
It would take a brave crew to go up in that – or maybe a stiff vodka!
I’m sure both apply!
Excellent work Dave, looks like a superb build of an iconic aircraft.
Thank you Rich!
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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