Ilyushin Il-2 ‘Sturmovik’
The Ilyushin IL-2 became one of the Soviet's primary ground attack aircraft with over 42,330 rolling off assembly lines and almost rivalling the German Messerschmitt BF109 for the largest production run of any single engine aircraft of WWII.
Initially underpowered, heavy and cumbersome, the IL-2 first saw combat as a single seater ground attack aircraft in the opening months of the German invasion of Russia but was no match for the Luftwaffe's more technologically advanced fighters such as the BF 109.
In less than six days after its delivery to the Soviet 4th ShAP (Ground Attach Regiment), only 10 aircraft remained in operation condition from an initial supply of 65.
The aircraft was so new that its pilots had little time to master its flight characteristics, with ground crews having received no training in its servicing or rearming.
None of the IL-2’s pilots had fired its armament and many had barely enough training to take-off and land.
In the first three days of operations, 10 aircraft had been lost to enemy fire with another 19 lost to pilot error or aircraft malfunction.
At the time of the German invasion, only one of the planned four Soviet aircraft factories were in operation and even this had to be quickly closed and moved east of the Ural Mountains in the face of the German’s rapid advance.
Stalin was reputedly furious at the slow production of the IL-2 and sent a scathing message to his factory managers demanding they immediately increase production, stating 'Our Red Army now needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats’. He finished with an ominous warning ‘increase production or else!'
Despite a number of improvements to its power plant and flight controls, the IL-2 continued to suffer appalling loses - particularly from enemy fighters attacking from the rear. By the beginning of March 1942, the Soviets were forced to modify the aircraft’s fuselage to accommodate a rear gunner just behind the pilot.
Whilst improving its air defence capabilities, the addition of the rear gunner also increased the aircraft's overall weight,reducing its airspeed by almost 20km and because the centre of gravity had shifted backwards, pilots started reported handling difficulties.
In October of that same year, a third variant of the IL-2 was introduced featuring an upgraded AM-38 engine which vastly improved its takeoff and low altitude performance, as well as an extension of the aircraft's wing flaps to increase its handling response.
The modifications proved invaluable and by July of 1943, the IL-2 had been widely deployed across the Eastern Front being able to fly at low height in adverse weather and carrying armament that could penetrate the thick armour of the German Panther and Tiger tanks.
One of the most valuable features appreciated by its pilots, was that its heavy armour plating could take a great deal of punishment from both ground fire and enemy aircraft. Unfortunately, this armour plating did not extend to the rear gunner's position and by the end of the war, the Soviets were losing four IL-2 rear gunners to every one of its pilots.
In late 1943 the Soviet airforce began receiving more advanced US fighters such as the Bell P 39 Airacobra and P-40 as part of the US Lend Lease Program. Supplementing the British Hawker Hurricanes the new aircraft totally transformed the arial combat effectiveness of the Soviets but up until then, the Soviets were often forced to send up their light bombers as interceptors due to an ongoing shortage of purpose built single engine fighters. A role they were totally unsuited for.
As a result, the Ilyushin IL-2 often found itself being pitted against the more formidable BF 109 and the FW 190s.
Such encounters often proved to be extremely one sided unless the IL-2’s rear gunner managed to get the German fighter in their gunsights but remarkably, the IL-2 did prove to be reasonably effective in air-to-air combat not only against the Ju 87 Stuka and the Ju 52 Troop transport but also the Heinkel He 111 and Fw 200 Condor bombers.
It was a role it shared with its ground attack missions right up until the end of the war.
As a ground attack aircraft, the IL-2 became one of the most formidable aircraft on the Eastern front with an unsurpassed record of German tank, armoured vehicle and artillery destroyed.
The Ilyushin IL-2 also became famous for many of its decorated pilots and crew including Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova.
Yegorava had piloted 243 missions and been decorated three times, including the Gold Star Hero of the Soviet Union which she received ‘posthumously’ in 1944 after being shot down and listed as killed in action. Miraculously she had been rescued from her burning wreckage and treated for burns before spending the rest of the war in a German POW camp.
Another remarkable and decorated survivor was Hero of the Soviet Union recipient, pilot officer T. Kuznetsov who survived the crash of his Il-2 in 1942 whilst returning from a reconnaissance mission. Escaping from the wreckage, Kuznetsov hid in thick woods nearby. To his surprise, a German Bf 109 fighter landed near the crash site and its pilot began to investigate the wrecked Il-2, possibly 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.
All Ilyushin Il-2 II-2 Collectables listed below come complete with detailed Scale Model, Mango Wood Stand & Plaque plus Printed Fact Sheet featuring photo of instrument in aircraft cockpit.
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Soviet Ilyushin IL-2 Stormovik
Rare Port Exhaust Stub salvaged from the wreckage of a...