Ilyushin Il-2 Илью́шин Ил-2
Design and Development
The Ilyushin Il-2 (Cyrillic Илью́шин Ил-2) was a ground-attack aircraft (Shturmovik) in the Second World War, produced by the Soviet Union in very large numbers. In combination with its successor, the Ilyushin Il-10, a total of 42,330 were built, making it the single most produced military aircraft design in all of aviation history, as well as one of the most produced piloted aircraft in history along with the American postwar civilian Cessna 172 and the Soviet's own Polikarpov Po-2 biplane, sometimes seen side-by-side with the big armored Ilyushin design on the front lines. The Shturmovik is regarded as the best ground attack aircraft of World War II. It was a prominent aircraft for tank killing with its accuracy in dive bombing and its guns being able to penetrate tanks' thin top armor.
To Il-2 pilots, the aircraft was simply the diminutive 'Ilyusha'. To the soldiers on the ground, it was the 'Hunchback', the 'Flying Tank' or the 'Flying Infantryman'. Its postwar NATO reporting name was 'Bark'. The Il-2 aircraft played a crucial role on the Eastern Front. Joseph Stalin paid the Il-2 a great tribute in his own inimitable manner: when a particular production factory fell behind on its deliveries, Stalin sent an angrily-worded cable to the factory manager, stating 'They are as essential to the Red Army as air and bread.' 
Design and development
The idea for a Soviet armored ground-attack aircraft dates to the early 1930s, when Dmitry Pavlovich Grigorovich designed TSh-1 and TSh-2 armored biplanes. However, Soviet engines at the time lacked the power needed to provide the heavy aircraft with good performance. Il-2 was designed by Sergey Ilyushin and his team at the Central Design Bureau in 1938. TsKB-55 was a two-seat aircraft with an armoured shell weighing 700 kg (1,540 lb), protecting crew, engine, radiators, and the fuel tank. Standing loaded, the Ilyushin weighed more than 4,700 kg (10,300 lb), making the armoured shell about 15% of the aircraft's gross weight. Uniquely for a World War II attack aircraft, and similarly to the forward fuselage design of the World War I-era Imperial German Junkers J.I armored, all-metal biplane, the Il-2's armor was designed as a load-bearing part of the Ilyushin's monocoque structure, thus saving considerable weight. The prototype TsKB-55, which first flew on October 2, 1939, won the government competition against Sukhoi Su-6 and received VVS designation BSh-2. The prototypes - TsKB-55 and TskB-57 - were built at Moscow plant #39, at that time the Ilyushin design bureau's base.
The BSh-2 was overweight and underpowered, with the original Mikulin AM-35 1,022 kW (1,370 hp) engine designed to give its greatest power outputs at high altitude. Because of this it was redesigned as the TsKB-57, a lighter single-seat design, with the more powerful 1,254 kW (1,680 hp) Mikulin AM-38 engine, a development of the AM-35 optimised for low level operation. The TsKB-57 first flew on 12 October 1940. The production aircraft passed State Acceptance Trials in March 1941, and was redesignated Il-2 in April. Deliveries to operational units commenced in May 1941.
The Il-2 is a single-engine, propeller-driven, low-wing monoplane of mixed construction with a crew of two (one in early versions), specially designed for assault operations. Its most notable feature was the inclusion of armor in an airframe load-bearing scheme. Armor plates replaced the frame and paneling throughout the nacelle and middle part of the fuselage, and an armored hull made of riveted homogeneous armor steel AB-1 (AB-2) secured the aircraft's engine, cockpit, water and oil radiators, and fuel tanks.
The Il-2 was eventually produced in vast quantities, becoming the single most widely produced military aircraft in aviation history, but only 249 had been built by the time Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941.
Production early in the war was slow because after the German invasion the aircraft factories near Moscow and other major cities in western Russia had to be moved east of the Ural Mountains. Ilyushin and his engineers had time to reconsider production methods, and two months after the move Il-2s were again being produced. The tempo was not to Premier Stalin's liking, however, and he issued the following telegram to Shenkman and Tretyakov: 'You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture IL-2s until now. Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one IL-2 a day and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army. I ask you not to try the government's patience, and demand that you manufacture more ILs. This is my final warning.' —Stalin
As a result, 'the production of Shturmoviks rapidly gained speed. Stalin's notion of the Il-2 being 'like bread' to the Red Army took hold in Ilyushin's aircraft plants and the army soon had their Shturmoviks available in quantity.'
Initial use and operational confusion
The first use in action of the Il-2 was with the 4th ShAP (Ground Attack Regiment) over the Berezina River days after the invasion began. The aircraft was so new that the pilots had no training in flight characteristics or tactics, and the ground crew no training in servicing or re-arming. The training received only enabled the pilots to take-off and land, none of the pilots had fired the armament, let alone learned tactics. There were 249 Il-2s available on 22 June 1941. In the first three days, 4th ShAP had lost 10 Il-2s to enemy action, a further 19 were lost to other causes, and 20 pilots were killed. By 10 July, 4th ShAP was down to 10 aircraft from a strength of 65.
Tactics improved as Soviet aircrew became used to the Il-2's strengths. Instead of a low horizontal straight approach at 50 metres altitude, the target was usually kept to the pilot's left and a turn and shallow dive of 30 degrees was utilized, using an echeloned assault by four to 12 aircraft at a time. Although the Il-2's RS-82 and RS-132 rockets could destroy armored vehicles with a single hit, they were so inaccurate that experienced Il-2 pilots mainly utilized the cannon. Another potent weapon of the Il-2s was the PTAB shaped charge bomblets (protivotankovaya aviabomba, 'anti-tank aviation bomb'). They were designated PTAB-2.5-1.5, as they had the size of a 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) bomb, but weighed only 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) due to the empty space in the shaped charge. Up to 192 were carried in four external dispensers (cluster bombs) or up to 220 in the internal weapon bays. The HEAT charge could easily penetrate the relatively thin upper armor of all heavy German tanks. PTABs were first used in large scale in the Battle of Kursk.
Thereafter, the Il-2 was widely deployed on the Eastern Front. The aircraft could fly in low light conditions and carried weaponry capable of defeating the thick armor of the Panther and Tiger I tanks. They also proved capable of defending themselves against enemy fighters, claiming an occasional Messerschmitt Bf 109.
Effectiveness as attack aircraft
The true capabilities of the Il-2 are difficult to determine from existing documentary evidence. W. Liss in Aircraft profile 88: Ilyushin Il-2 mentions an engagement during the Battle of Kursk on 7 July 1943, in which 70 tanks from the German 9th Panzer Division were claimed to be destroyed by Ilyushin Il-2s in just 20 minutes. However, on 1 July 1943, the 9th Panzer Division had only a total of 83 tanks and armored command vehicles available, which continued in action for over three months with most of its initial tanks still intact.
In another Soviet report of the action on the same day, a Soviet staff publication states that: Ground forces highly valued the work of aviation on the battlefield. In a number of instances enemy attacks were thwarted thanks to our air operations. Thus on 7 July enemy tank attacks were disrupted in the Kashara region (13th Army). Here our assault aircraft delivered three powerful attacks in groups of 20-30, which resulted in the destruction and disabling of 34 tanks. The enemy was forced to halt further attacks and to withdraw the remnants of his force north of Kashara. —Glantz and Orenstein 1999, p. 260.
Further Soviet claims during the Battle of Kursk, suggest the Sturmoviks destroyed over 270 tanks and several thousand men in a period of just two hours against the 3rd Panzer Division. Again, here on the 1st of July before the start of Operation Zitadelle, the 3rd Panzer Division had only 90 tanks and armored command vehicles, which is 180 less than the Soviets claimed as destroyed by Sturmoviks and on 11 July, the division still had 41 operational tanks. Finally, the Soviet claim that over a period of 4 hours Sturmoviks destroyed 240 tanks of the 17th Panzer Division and virtually wiped them out is also of questionable merit. On 1 July the 17th Panzer Division had only a total of 67 tanks and armored command vehicles, which is 173 fewer total tanks than claimed destroyed by the Sturmoviks. Furthermore, the division did not even participate in the battle, being in Army Group South reserve. In the Battle of Kursk, General V. Ryazanov became a master in the use of attack aircraft en masse, developing and improving the tactics of Il-2 operations in co-ordination with infantry, artillery and armoured troops. Ryazanov was later awarded the Gold Star of Hero of Soviet Union twice, and the 1st Attack Aircraft Corps under his command became the first unit to be awarded the honorific title of Guards.
Total German tank losses in Operation Zitadelle were approximately 1,612 tanks and assault guns damaged and 323 irreparably destroyed, the majority most likely to Soviet AT guns and armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs). Total German fully tracked AFV losses on the entire East Front from 1941 to 1945 were approximately 32,800 of which approximately 2,300 were lost to direct air attack from the IL-2s and other aircraft such as the Petlyakov Pe-2. In contrast, from 22nd June 1941 to the cessation of hostilities, 23,600 Il-2 and Il-10 ground attack aircraft were destroyed. These numbers suggest that more than 10 Il-2s and Il-10s were irrecoverably lost for every German fully tracked AFV destroyed by direct air attack on the East Front during WWII.
In 1943, one loss corresponded to 26 Sturmovik sorties. About half of those lost were shot down by fighters, the rest falling to anti-aircraft fire.
The main problem with the Il-2 was the inaccuracy of its attacks. Towards the end of war the Soviets were able to concentrate massive numbers of Sturmoviks to support their main offensives. However, particularly against dug-in and armored targets, the effect was often more psychological than actual physical destruction of targets. In the 9 June offensive in the Karelian Isthmus in Finland, the Finnish AA forces were far too few in numbers to counter the armadas of Pe-2 and Il-2, but they quickly found that the Il-2 attacks generally missed their marks widely, particularly with bombs. While some attacks against large unprotected targets such as horse and truck convoys and railyards had devastating results, attacks against dug-in point targets were usually ineffective. The frequent duels between dug-in 20 and 40mm AA guns and Il-2 attackers never resulted in the complete destruction of the gun, while many Il-2s were brought down in these attacks.
The heavy armor of the Il-2 also meant that it would typically carry only comparatively light bomb-loads, which together with the poor accuracy of its attacks made it a far less deadly attack aircraft than the contemporary fighter-bombers of the western allies such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and Hawker Typhoon. The rocket projectiles especially were not effective, even the larger RS-132 (of which four were carried) having a warhead with only 0.9 kg (2.0 lb) of explosives, which compared poorly with the P-47's typical load of ten 5 inch (13 cm) HVARs with each having a 21 kg (46 lb) warhead, or the 8 to 12 '60 lb' (27 kg) warheads of the Hawker Typhoon's RP-3 rockets. Likewise the Shturmovik's bombs were usually only 50 kg (rarely 100 kg), too small to compensate for the typically wide variation from target point.
To compensate for the poor accuracy of the Il-2's bombsight, in 1943 the Soviet Command decided to use shaped-charge armor-piercing projectiles against enemy armored vehicles, and the PTAB-2.5-1.5 SCAP aircraft bomb was put into production. These small-calibre bombs were loaded directly into the bomb bays and were dropped onto enemy vehicles from altitudes up to 100 meters (328 ft). As each Il-2 could carry up to 192 bombs, a fire carpet 70 meters (229 ft.) long and 15 meters (49 ft) wide covered the enemy tanks, giving a high 'kill' probability. Pilots of 291st ShAP were the first to use the PTAB-2.5-1.5 bombs. During one sortie on 5 June 1943, six attack aircraft led by Lt. Col. A. Vitrook claimed to have destroyed 15 enemy tanks in one attack, and during five days of the enemy advance the 291st Division claimed to have destroyed or damaged 422 enemy tanks.
'The flying tank'
Thanks to the heavy armor protection, the Il-2 could take a great deal of punishment and proved difficult for both ground and aircraft fire to shoot down. One Il-2 in particular was reported to have returned safely to base despite receiving more than 600 direct hits and having all its control surfaces completely shredded as well as numerous holes in its main armor and other structural damage. Some enemy pilots favored aiming down into the cockpit and wing roots in diving attacks on the slow, low-flying Il-2 formations. Several Luftwaffe aces claimed to attack while climbing from behind, out of view of the rear gunner, aiming for the Il-2's non-retractable oil cooler. This has been disputed by some Il-2 pilots in postwar interviews, since Il-2s typically flew very close to the ground (cruise altitudes below 50 m (160 ft) were common) and the radiator protruded a mere 10 cm (4 in) from the aircraft.
A major threat to the Il-2 was German ground fire. In postwar interviews, Il-2 pilots reported 20 mm (0.79 in) and 37 mm (1.46 in) artillery as the primary threat. While the fabled 88 mm (3.46 in) calibre gun was formidable, low-flying Il-2s presented too fast-moving a target for the 88's relatively low rate of fire, and while occasional hits were scored Soviet pilots apparently did not treat the 88 with the same respect as high-altitude Western heavy bomber crews. Similarly the attempts in Finland during summer '44 to augment the small numbers of 20/40mm AA in the field army by heavier 76mm guns drawn from homeland defence proved also relatively ineffective and few Il-2s were downed despite attempting different tactics with time-fuzed fragmentation, contact-fuzed, and shrapnel ammunition: the heavy guns simply lacked the reaction times to take advantage of the brief firing opportunities presented by the low-altitude Il-2 attacks. Single-barrel 20mm guns were also found somewhat inadequate due to limited firepower: one or two shells were often not enough to destroy the Il-2, and unless the Il-2 was attacking the gun itself, thus presenting effectively a stationary target, scoring more hits during a firing opportunity was rare. However, a single hit from a 40mm AA gun was usually enough to bring down an Il-2. Soviet anti-aircraft artillery also frequently mistook it for German aircraft, often with lethal consequences.
The armored tub, ranging from 5–12 mm (0.2-0.5 in) in thickness and enveloping the engine and the cockpit, could deflect all small arms fire and glancing blows from larger-caliber ammunition. There are reports of the armored windscreen surviving direct hits from 20 mm (0.79 in) rounds. Unfortunately, the rear gunners did not have the benefit of all-around armor protection, especially from the rear and to the sides and suffered about four times more casualties than the pilots. Added casualties resulted from the Soviet policy of not returning home with unused ammunition which typically resulted in repeated passes on the target. Soviet troops often requested additional passes even after the aircraft were out of ammunition to exploit the intimidating effect Il-2s had on German ground troops, who gave it the nickname Schlächter (Slaughterer), perhaps a play on the term Schlachtflugzeug ('ground attack aircraft'). Nicknames such as 'The Flying Tank' and 'Der Schwarze Tod' (the 'Black Death') were coined by soldiers. Luftwaffe pilots called it Eiserner Gustav (Iron Gustav) or the Zementbomber (Concrete bomber). The Finnish nickname maatalouskone ('agricultural machine' or 'tractor') derived from a word play with maataistelukone (ground attack aircraft, literally 'ground combat aircraft' where kone, literally 'machine', in turn is shortened from lentokone, aircraft, literally 'flying machine')
Il-2 Rear gunners
Heavy losses to enemy fighters forced the reintroduction of a rear gunner; early Il-2s were field modified by cutting a hole in the fuselage behind the cockpit for a gunner sitting on a canvas sling armed with a 12.7 mm UBT machine gun in an improvised mounting. The semi-turret gun mount allowed the machine gun to be fired at angles of up to 35° upwards, 35° to starboard and 15° to port. Tests showed that maximum speed decreased by between 10 and 20 km/h (6.2–12.4 mph) and that the two-seater was more difficult to handle because the center of gravity was shifted backwards. At the beginning of March 1942, a production two-seat Il-2 with the new gunner's cockpit began manufacturer tests. The second cockpit and armament increased all-up weight by 170 kg (374 lb) so the flaps were allowed to be deployed at an angle of 17° to avoid an over-long takeoff run. The new variant had a lengthened fuselage compartment with an extended canopy offering some protection from the elements. Unlike the well-armoured cockpit of the pilot compartment with steel plating up to 12 mm (0.47 in) thick behind, beneath and on both sides as well as up to 65mm thick glass sections, the rear gunner was provided with 6 mm (.23 in) thick armour, only effective against rifle-calibre rounds. 
To improve performance, the Mikulin Design Bureau started work on an uprated AM-38 engine. The new engines produced 1,700 hp at takeoff and 1,500 hp at 750 meters. They gave an improved takeoff and low-altitude performance. On 30 October 1942, production Il-2s powered by AM38s were used on the Central front for the first time when they successfully attacked Smolensk airfield occupied by Germans. The Shturmovik rear guns proved to be effective against hostile fighters, and during the service trials alone, gunners shot down seven Bf 109s and repulsed many attacks. In January 1943 two-seat attack aircraft powered by uprated AM-38F engines (Forseerovannyy - uprated) began to arrive at front line units.
Nonetheless, the death rate among the air gunners remained exceptionally high and not until late models produced after 1944, did the 13 mm (.5 in) rear plate of the armour shell get moved rearwards into the (wooden) rear fuselage to allow a gunner to sit behind the fuel tank. The armour did not extend to the rear or below although side armour panels were riveted to the rear armour plate to protect the ammunition tank for the UBT machine gun, providing some measure of protection. The modifications including adding the rear gunner and gun had added weight behind the cg, resulting in 'marginal' stability and handling characteristics that were 'barely acceptable'. This was the reason for the swept back outer wings in later Il-2s.
Owing to a shortage of fighters, in 1941–1942, Il-2s were occasionally used as fighters. While outclassed by dedicated fighters such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190, in dogfights, the Il-2 could take on other Luftwaffe aircraft with some success. German front line units equipped with the Henschel Hs 126 suffered most of all from the ravages of Il-2s. Il-2 pilots also often attacked close formations of Junkers Ju 87s, as the 7.92 mm machine guns of the Stukas were ineffective against the heavily armoured Shturmoviks. In the winter of 1941–1942, Il-2s were used against Luftwaffe transport aircraft, and became the most dangerous opponent of the Junkers Ju-52/3m. Pilots of 33rd GvShAP were the most successful in these operations, but other successful units were those operating near Stalingrad. Their targets were not only Ju 52s but also Heinkel He 111 and Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor bombers, delivering supplies to the besieged German troops.
While the Il-2 was a deadly air-to-ground weapon, and even a fairly effective interceptor against slow bombers and transport aircraft, heavy losses resulted from its vulnerability to fighter attack. Losses were very high, the highest of all types of Soviet aircraft, though given the numbers in service this is only to be expected. Shturmovik losses (including Il-10 type), in 1941-1945, were of 10,762 aircraft (533 in 1941, 1,676 in 1942, 3,515 in 1943, 3,347 in 1944 and 1,691 in 1945).The main defensive tactic was flying low and power down as the fighters closed in to let the fighter overshoot and fly into the Il-2's firing range.
Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova piloted 243 Il-2 missions and was decorated three times. One of these awards was the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union that she had received 'posthumously' in late 1944, as she was presumed dead after being shot down. She managed to survive imprisonment in a German POW camp. Junior Lieutenant Ivan Grigorevich Drachenko, another Il-2 pilot, was reputedly one of only four men who were decorated as both Heroes of the Soviet Union and also won all three of the Orders of Glory.
Hero of the Soviet Union recipient T. Kuznetsov survived the crash of his Il-2 in 1942 when shot down returning from a reconnaissance mission. Kuznetsov was able to escape from the wreck and hide nearby. To his surprise, a German Bf 109 landed near the crash site and the pilot began to scrounge around the wrecked Il-2 possibly to assist Kuznetsov or to look for souvenirs. Thinking quickly, Kuznetsov ran to the German fighter and used it to fly home, barely avoiding being shot down by Soviet fighters in the process.
The early two-seater prototype proved to be too heavy for the limited power of the early AM-35 engine. A redesigned single seat version was soon developed and saw combat, particularly in the early phase of the war in in the Soviet. While the Il-2 proved to be a deadly air-to-ground weapon, heavy losses resulted from its vulnerability to fighter attack. Consequently, in February 1942, the two-seat design was revived. The Il-2M, with a rear gunner under the stretched canopy, entered service in September 1942 with surviving single-seaters eventually modified to this standard. Later changes included an upgrade from 20 mm to 23 mm to 37 mm cannons, aerodynamic improvements, use of wooden outer wing panels instead of metal and increased fuel capacity. In 1943, the Il-2 Type 3 or Il-2m3 came out with redesigned wings that were swept back 15 degrees on the outer panels, and nearly straight trailing edges, resulting in a wing planform somewhat like the AT-6 trainer. Performance and handling were much improved and this became the most common version of the Il-2. A radial engine powered variant of the Il-2 with the Shvetsov ASh-82 engine was proposed in 1942 to remedy projected shortages in Mikulin inline engines. However, the ASh-82 was also used in the new Lavochkin La-5 fighter which effectively secured all available engines to the Lavochkin bureau. The radial engine Sukhoi Su-2 ground attack aircraft was produced in small quantities, but was generally considered unsuitable due to inadequate performance and lack of defensive armament.
TsKB-55: Two-seat prototype, AM-35 engine, first flight: 2 October 1939.
Several Eastern European museums have aircraft that were stored there after decommissioning and preserved. A surge of restorations began after the fall of the Soviet Union due to Western collectors, resulting in more aircraft appearing for static display. Restored aircraft are normally based on the original armoured cockpit 'tub' and original engines, but little else.
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Air Force - received 120 Il-2 and 10 training Il-2U in 1945. The type was operated between 1945 and 1954.
Ilyushin Il-2 Илью́шин Ил-2 photograph section
Ilyushin IL 2 Sturmovik Revenge Barinov with family members
Resident of Leningrad, PV Barinov and her daughter, HE Barinov, along with pilot Captain GM Parshin, flying on IL-2 given as a gift Barinov. The cab attack aircraft - air gunner Sergeant IG Skripnikov.
Before the war the family Praskovya Vasilyevna Barinova consisted of six people: a husband, three daughters and a son. In 1942 the siege of Leningrad died in her husband Praskovya Vasilyevna and the youngest, a five-year daughter. Son Victor, who fought in the army, went missing in the battle to defend the city.
January 27, 1944, the day of fireworks in honor of the complete liberation of Leningrad from blockade, mother and daughter Barinova (they both worked in the 27th clinic in Leningrad: a mother - a nurse, the daughter of Jack - a nurse) have all their savings (including legacy left by their family, one of the relatives) to fund national defense, and asked the government - to build a plane for the money, calling it "Revenge of Barinov."
June 1, 1944 a new attack aircraft IL-2 in the presence of Barinov was officially handed over to a better pilot, 943rd Aviation Regiment Attack 13th Air Army of the Leningrad front captain Georgi Mikhailovich Parshin. On the left side of the fuselage was inscribed, "Revenge of Barinov," on the right - "In Leningrad". On this plane, GM Parshin did over a hundred sorties, participated in the liberation of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, in the storming of Berlin, shot down 10 aircraft and destroyed a large amount of equipment and manpower. He was twice named a Hero of the Soviet Union - 19/08/1944 and 04/19/1945.
GM Parshin, died March 13, 1956 when the test flight on the aircraft IL-28. PV Barinov died in 1974, her daughter, Eugenia - in 1972.
This webpage was updated 30th September 2012
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