Polikarpov I-153

At the start of World War II the Soviet Union had a vast combat air force that was not quite modern.

Let’s take a look at one of the most prevalent types.

Josef Stalin had solidified his hold on power by 1928 and promptly set about modernizing his military. A modern biplane fighter, developed jointly by Andrei Tupolev and Nikolai Polikarpov was a part of this plan. This type was known as the I-5 and was supposed to be ready in 1929. Because of the impossibility of this deadline Polikarpov and much of his staff were arrested by the NKVD and forced to continue their work from prison.
Two prototypes and limited pre-production aircraft did fly in 1930, which apparently earned a release from prison. Series production did not start until 1932. That same year Polikarpov was made head of a newly established “Fighter Brigade”, a design bureau tasked with fighter aircraft design.
In 1933 a number of Wright Cyclone engines were imported, and reverse engineered to form the basis of a new engine and improved fighter design to use it. Apart from the engine the biggest part of the new design was a gull shape for the upper wing; this offered aerodynamic advantages and greatly improved the pilot’s forward visibility. Designated I-15 the new design entered production in 1934. In 1936 this would be the first type to be sent to Spain to aid Republican (Communist) forces in the Civil War there. The type was very successful at first, until the Italian CR.32 proved superior. This includes superiority over German types like the Heinkel He 51 and shooting down at least one early production Bf 109. When Germany attacked in 1941 many I-15s were still in service as trainers and a small number with combat units in the Black Sea Fleet.

Armament is four light machine guns, all in the cowling (two at top, two just below center spread wide)
Through the 1930s the Soviet Air Force relied two types of Polikarpov fighters in most fighter squadrons.

By 1937 a new development of the I-15 design was entering service. The I-152 offered more power and a strengthened structure. One change, Polikarpov himself did not want, but in response to pilot complaints about the gull wing; a conventional straight upper wing was added. Overall, the new type was faster, especially in a dive; but less maneuverable. This type was still in broad service in June 1941.
The VVS (Soviet Air Force) was operating under some interesting doctrine at this time. Spanish Civil War experience seemed to validate the idea of a fighter force composed of both biplanes and monoplanes [keep in mind, most Soviet officers who actually served in Spain were executed on their return home, because they’d been corrupted by mere exposure to Western ideas]. Obviously the monoplanes (the Polikarpov design bureau’s I-16) were much faster. But the biplanes excelled at every kind of turn and maneuver. So of course a modern fighter force should have both types, right? Even individual squadrons and pilots would be expected to fly either type.
The Nomonhan War against Japan, Summer 1939, and Winter War against Finland that Winter provided clear proof this was a flawed idea and provided the push to finally get a new generation of designs into service.

In Spain the I-15 and I-152 first met the Bf 109, in its earliest form. Even this early the Bf 109 was about 100 mph faster, if only some senior advisors had been allowed to tell the tale…

Meanwhile, Polikarpov’s Fighter Brigade had one last improvement to the basic design that first flew in 1938. The idea was combine the maneuverability of the I-15 with the speed of the I-152. That meant a return of the gull wing, but with the engine and structural improvements of the later design. A new twist was added with retractable landing gear. This actually made it about 25 mph faster than the I-152; in fact, it was only about 10 mph slower than the I-16! But Polikarpov was proud to return to that wing and named the new plane Chaika, Russian for “Seagull”.
Although the type had some success as a fighter, mainly against bombers, the I-153 was best used as a fighter bomber/close support aircraft through 1943.

Three I-153s fly as Warbirds. [World War II wiki]

This particular aircraft was attached to the Northern Fleet Air Force Summer of 1941. It was flown by Snr Lt Aleksander Adonkin at least on occasion. He was credited with five kills in Polikarpov fighters, both I-153 and I-16. The next year he switched to the Hurricane and scored 12 more. In 1944 he was killed in a P-39.

The He 111 has a stated max airspeed about four mph faster than the I-153. Fortunately for the Soviets, bombers don’t normally cruise at maximum speed. But making a second pass was often not an option, and firepower was half of what a Hurricane or Spitfire had.

This is the ICM kit with Aeromaster Decals. It was an easy and fun build. Only issue being conflicting information on if this particular plane had a white or yellow tail! (I wouldn’t take any bets from the Soviet era black and white photos I’ve seen). Literally 50/50, I chose yellow because I thought it would be more fun.

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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10 Responses to Polikarpov I-153

  1. Pierre Lagacé says:

    The Soviet Union was not a fun place to be if you had angered Stalin.

  2. Jeff Groves says:

    You have to be completely ignorant of the history of the 20th century to think that any form of Socialism is a good idea.

  3. Ernie Davis says:

    Still, you have to admire the courage of someone willing to take a biplane into a shooting war in 1942.

    • atcDave says:

      No doubt! And some guys made ace doing it!

    • Ernie Davis says:

      I guess there were also a few in the Philippines who flew P-26’s up to meet Zeroes too. I don’t think any of them made ace though.

      • atcDave says:

        No, definitely not! I think Jesus Villamore was the only P-26 pilot of note, he had three kills which is remarkable enough. And of course he was an experienced, high flight time pilot.
        But also, the top Commonwealth ace of the War (Marmaduke Paddle) scored most (?, or at least many) of his kills in a Gladiator. But there was a prolonged period in North Africa where most combats involved biplanes on both sides; Gladiator vs CR.42
        In almost any combat between a biplane and monoplane the biplane will have the edge in maneuverability. If the pilot is able to play to his strengths he can absolutely win some battles. But obviously the pilot of the faster type has the advantage of setting the terms of battle, unless surprised, and should win unless he gets suckered into a slow speed fight.

  4. Just imagine if we locked up every company boss who was late delivering we’d have no businessmen left!

    • atcDave says:

      I think the system was called “all stick, no carrot”!
      It seems the natural consequence of a system where everyone is paid the same; if you can’t reward success you’re only left with punishing failure. And guess what happens when the person defining success/failure is unrealistic.

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