Soviet Union Air Force

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Soviet Air Force
Военно-воздушные силы СССР

Flag of the Soviet Air Force, svg

Flag of the Soviet Air Force
active May 24, 1918 to December 21, 1991
Country Soviet UnionSoviet Union Soviet Union
Armed forces Red Army
Type Armed forces
Tradition Russian Air Force
Originally the red star as the main symbol of the air force until 1943 Red star.svg
Red star with white border from 1943 Roundel of the Soviet Union (1945–1991) .svg
Soviet Air Force emblem RAF AF branch insignia.svg

The Air Force of the Soviet Union ( Russian Военно-воздушные силы СССР , transcribed: Wojenno-vosduschnye sily SSSR, short WWS ) were a branch of the Soviet Army .

The air force existed from 1918 to 1991. They emerged from the tsarist air force and were divided among the successor states after the dissolution of the Soviet Union .

Outline in the Cold War

The air forces were divided into

In addition, there were - organizationally separated from the air force - the air defense fighter planes (PWO) ( interceptors ), the army air forces and the sea air forces .


The beginnings in 1917

Ilya Muromets bomb plane

At the beginning of the October Revolution, Russia had a fleet of 1,109 military aircraft. Most of these aircraft, as well as their engines, had been purchased in Great Britain and France before and during the First World War or copied under license. Of the in-house developments, only the famous Ilja Muromez and the single-engine models Anatra D , Anatra DS and Lebedj-12 were ready for series production.

Shortly after the overthrow, a newly formed college began to record the available resources and list the aircraft, engines and production facilities available. On November 10, 1917, the first division of the Revolutionary Air Force was formed.

To train the pilots, ten new aviation schools were founded and in 1919 the Aviation Technology Center in Moscow, from which the Red Air Fleet Engineering Institute emerged in 1920 and the Air Fleet Academy in 1922, today's military academy for air force engineers .

In mid-1918, the Bolsheviks divided the Red Army's air forces into aviation departments, which were subordinate to the headquarters of the Red Workers 'and Peasants' Air Fleet, which was founded in May. An aviation division consisted of six aircraft with 113 members and had a fleet of four vehicles and six horse and carts. Initially there were only nine of these departments, but by December 1920 their number grew to 65 land and 18 naval departments.

These newly formed Soviet aviation forces took over a large part of the aircraft population of old Russia, which, as indicated above, was made up of a hodgepodge of different types. For example, 307 French Nieuports versions X to XXIV and some SPAD S.VII , British Sopwith Triplane , RAF SE5 and Vickers FB19 as well as some captured German Fokker D.VII biplanes were available as fighter aircraft .

In the course of the civil war , Western states and Japan also intervened against Soviet Russia . About 150 more aircraft were captured and added to the inventory. In particular, the 15 operational Ilya Muromets, who had been grouped together in a special bomber division, as well as the French Breguet 14 , did well in this conflict in bombing raids against the cavalry armies of General Mamontov's White Guards , but the main task of the air forces was mostly limited due to the lack of resources Educational tasks. The consequences that the government therefore drew from this civil war, among other things, consisted in building a strong air fleet. For this reason, in the years 1921–1928, new aircraft plants were built with great effort, as well as schools and research facilities built in order to rapidly advance the development and production in this field.

First own types - the twenties

On December 1, 1918, the father of Russian aviation, Nikolai Jegorowitsch Schukowski , founded the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (ZAGI), laying the foundation for research on which Soviet aerospace would be based in the decades to come. In the ZAGI, new types of aircraft were developed and tested, and aerodynamic conditions were researched. For this purpose, a large wind tunnel was built in which the flight behavior of entire aircraft could be observed.

For a while, however, the Soviet Union relied on purchasing aircraft from abroad. In 1922 90% of all new military machines were imported into the USSR. So it is not surprising that the first type from Soviet production, the R-1 , was a replica of the British de Havilland DH4 , the production of which had been tailored by Nikolai Polikarpow to domestic production possibilities . As recently as 1926, the Soviet Union bought outdated French Farman Goliath double-deckers for training bomber pilots , which were also used as drop-off aircraft for the paratrooper units that were forming .

The Po-2, one of the most popular aircraft ever

The Soviet Air Force suffered most from the lack of suitable engines. All aircraft engines had to be imported or produced under license. For example, the two most powerful engines produced by Soviet industry, the M-17 and the M-22 , were replicas of the German BMW VI and the French Gnôme-Rhône Jupiter .

This situation only changed in December 1930 with the establishment of the Central Institute for Aircraft Engine Construction (ZIAM). Alexander Mikulin , who had been building aircraft engines since 1923, developed the first powerful Soviet aircraft engine there from 1930, the water-cooled 12-cylinder V-engine M-34 . Another employee who later became known for his engines was Vladimir Klimov .

At the end of 1924 the Soviet air forces were restructured again. The existing aviation departments were dissolved and the aircraft were grouped into the squadrons that corresponded to their tasks. Fighter, reconnaissance, attack aircraft and light bomber squadrons were formed. A squadron consisted of three subdivisions of 18 aircraft each. By 1928, the strength of the squadrons doubled.

In the mid-1920s, the first high-performance in-house designs appeared, which also attracted attention abroad. Pointing the way to this was the world's first cantilever all-metal bomber, the TB-1, developed by Andrej Tupolew . Fighter aircraft of this period included the biplane Grigorowitsch I-2 and Polikarpow I-3 , which could be made available to the air forces in more or less significant numbers.

In the construction of flying boats, Dmitri Grigorovich has been a leader since the First World War . His two designs, M-5 and M-9 , formed the backbone of the aircraft on board the Soviet naval fleet.

The development that began with the Polikarpow R-1, namely the production of light single-engine multi-purpose machines, was continued with the Tupolew R-3 . It culminated in the mass-produced types Polikarpow R-5 and Polikarpow Po-2 in the 1930s and characterizes the production methods of Soviet industry at the time: small types that could be manufactured without great effort, which, if necessary, can be used as reconnaissance aircraft, bombers, liaison aircraft and others were usable. Special types such as the TB-1 bomber, however, remained clearly in the minority. In 1929 this accounted for only 5% of the aircraft in the Soviet air fleet, while the single-engine reconnaissance aircraft made up 80%.

The thirties

With the gradual strengthening of the Soviet economy, the balance of power in the Soviet air forces also changed. The foreign types had disappeared and their own engines were now available in sufficient quantities. With the PW-1 and the DA , two aircraft machine guns had already been developed in previous years, which have now been replaced by such powerful weapons as the SchKAS -MG.

While the reconnaissance had previously dominated the image of the air force, 43% of all Soviet military aircraft were now fighter planes , at the beginning of the Great Patriotic War even 53.4%.

In July 1929, the Central Committee of the CPSU issued a resolution that provided for the development of new and better aircraft. For this reason, the Central Design Office (ZKB) was founded in 1930 , in which design teams specialized in certain types of aircraft worked from 1932. There were development groups for fighters, long-range bombers, reconnaissance aircraft, seaplanes, rotary wing aircraft , landing gear, aircraft weapons and propellers. The ZAGI was organized in a similar way.

Fighter I-16

As a result of this specialization, high-performance types were created that brought the connection to the technological world elite, such as the Polikarpow I-15 , I-16 fighter aircraft or the Tupolew TB-3 heavy bomber .

In 1932, the Soviet air force became an independent branch of arms and emphasis was placed on increasing the number of fighter and bomber squadrons. The share of the previously dominant reconnaissance aircraft decreased drastically as a result of this measure (only 31%), the fighters and bombers, on the other hand, made up the majority of all military aircraft from 1932/33.

In 1940 the air force was restructured again. The brigades were replaced by divisions , which were divided into regiments . A fighter regiment consisted of four squadrons with 60 aircraft, a bomber regiment consisted of five squadrons of either 60 medium or 40 heavy bombers. As a rule, two fighter pilot, two bomber and one attack pilot regiment formed a mixed flying division. The heavy bomber formations were divided into a corps , from which on March 5, 1942 the long-distance air forces ADD (Awiazija Dalnewo Deistwija) were formed.

With the heavy bomber TB-3 there was now also the possibility to advance the development of the airborne troops . Therefore, the dropping attempts, which had been carried out with Farman Goliath since 1930, were perfected and the first airborne detachments were created from 1932. In the maneuver in the Kiev military district in 1935 , airborne troops of regimental strength were used for the first time and the Soviet doctrine of deep operation was practically tested. In 1939 the Soviet Army had six airborne brigades, the number of which had doubled by 1940.

As early as the early 1930s, maneuvers were carried out to test the interaction between air and ground forces, a doctrine that was successfully applied during the Second World War and on which the Red Army was to rely until the collapse of the Soviet Union .

In the maritime sector, the specialization of aircraft for tailored tasks also prevailed. Georgi Beriev's flying boats and seaplanes , especially the MBR-2 , achieved remarkable flight performance in contrast to the outdated Grigorovich designs. Most of the aircraft fleet consisted of land-based machines. The sea pilots, until now part of the air force, became part of the naval war fleet from 1935 under the name Wojenno-vosduschnije silij-wojenno-morskoij flot (WWS-WMF).

The Spanish Civil War

In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out and Germany and Italy used this conflict to test their latest weapon technologies as part of aid to the putschists under General Franco . The Soviet Union also sent arms aid, including aircraft, to the republican government.

In the initial phase of the aerial battles, the I-15 and I-16 fighter aircraft used were able to hold their own against the German Heinkel He 51 and Italian Fiat CR.32 . But when the modern Messerschmitt Bf 109 Jäger appeared, it became clear that Soviet technology could no longer keep up with the latest developments. The twin-engine SB-2 bomber , when it appeared in 1935, was faster than all fighter planes of that time, but could not bring its speed advantage to bear on the faster Bf 109 and suffered heavy losses.

Taking this experience into account, the Central Committee of the CPSU decided in September 1939 to found new design offices. From 1938 to 1941 the OKBs Mikojan-Gurewitsch , Petlyakow , Lavochkin and Sukhoi as well as nine aircraft and seven engine plants were established. Until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War , modern types such as the MiG-3 , LaGG-3 and Jak-1 fighters as well as the Pe-2 , Il-2 and Su-2 bombers could be tested and put into series production to convict.

Second World War

The attack on the Soviet Union caught the air forces unprepared in the midst of this important phase of restructuring. The regiments consisted mostly of outdated aircraft. About 80% of the fighter squadrons made up the I-15, I-16 and I-153 models. In the bombers, 47% were SB-2 and 34% were DB-3 / Il-4 . By bombing airfields, the German Air Force succeeded in destroying some of the aircraft on the ground. By increasing the production of machines in the parts of the country not affected by the war, the losses could be quickly compensated.

In order to avoid the danger of bomb attacks and to keep them out of the reach of the advancing German armed forces , around 1,300 factories had to be evacuated to the east as far as the Urals by the end of 1941 , which was an enormous logistical achievement. During this campaign, complete plants and their workforce were loaded onto trains, trucks and, in some cases, onto barges and transported away. Under extreme conditions - the Russian winter had set in and the supply situation for the workers was insufficient - the factories were rebuilt in the depths of the country. In some cases, the aircraft were produced in the open-air factory in the half-finished factory. After a slump in production resulting from this relocation in December 1941, aircraft production in the Soviet Union rose steadily from then until the end of the war. At the beginning of the campaign the German Air Force controlled the airspace with the fighters Bf 109 and Fw 190 without restrictions, but from 1943 this advantage turned towards the Soviet Union. The evacuated plants continuously increased their production output and the new types La-5 , La-7 as well as Jak-9 and Jak-3 were on a par with the German types, if not superior in some respects. Due to the great potential of people, the losses in flight personnel could be easily compensated for, while the Germans suffered from a chronic shortage of personnel. The armament could also be improved through the transition from the machine gun to the large-caliber automatic cannon , especially the 20 mm SchWAK and 23 mm WJa .

In contrast to other air forces in World War II, women also flew combat missions in the Soviet Union. In 1942 three regiments consisted entirely of female pilots. The 588th night bomber regiment , in which the female pilots flew Po-2 biplanes and called themselves night witches , became famous . Of 29 female pilots who received the Hero of the Soviet Union award , 23 were night witches . During the war, a total of 2,420 flight crew members received this highest distinction in the Soviet Union, 65 was awarded twice, and pilots Ivan Koschedub and Alexander Pokryschkin received it three times.

Attack aircraft Il-2

A new tactic of the Soviet Union was the formation of large mixed aircraft formations, so-called air armies with up to 1,000, later up to 1,500 aircraft. Each air army was assigned to a front (Soviet counterpart to the German Army Group ), to whose Commander in Chief it was subordinate. This made it possible to ensure close cooperation between land and air forces. The focus of bomber production was also shifted in the direction of attack aircraft , which were a tactically very effective weapon. In particular the Il-2 and its successor Il-10 proved to be extremely effective in interaction with the ground forces. A total of about 40,000 copies of these two types were made. The total number of all aircraft produced during the war was 136,800, of which 62,500 were fighter aircraft.

By the end of the war, the Soviet air force had flown around 3 million sorties and was the second largest armed force in the Red Army after the army.

Post War and Cold War

Shortly after the Second World War, Soviet aircraft construction benefited greatly from technology transfer from Germany. Numerous sketches, blueprints and unfinished prototypes of German aircraft and engines could be captured in the Soviet occupation zone . German knowledge in the construction of jet engines was invaluable and made the transition from piston engine to jet propulsion easier for the aviation industry. A technological step was taken with the purchase of British engines and their replicas.

As early as 1946, the first prototype fighter planes were produced, equipped with captured Jumo 004 engines. In particular, the Yakovlev, Lavochkin, Mikoyan-Gurevich, Ilyushin and Tupolev design offices developed many new types.

With the MiG-9 and Yak-15 were shortly after the first fighter aircraft with jet propulsion air forces available. In 1949, the MiG-15 fighter appeared from OKB Mikoyan-Gurevich , about 8,000 copies were built and established the design bureau's reputation as the leading manufacturer of fighter aircraft in the USSR. In the same year the front - bomb aircraft Il-28 , which characterized the move away from the battle and dive bomber in favor of the front bomber, was delivered to the WWS. During the entry into the nuclear age after the beginning of the Cold War , the Soviet Union built a strong strategic bomber fleet. In particular, OKB Tupolev was a leader in this area. Modern versions of the Tu-95 bombers, which entered service in the early 1950s , are still in service today.

Personnel strength of the Soviet air force
1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1991
510,000 330,000 440,000 550,000 570,000 420,000 420,000

Inventory of the Soviet Air Force in 1990

Tupolev Tu-95
MiG-25 of the Soviet Air Force, 1980s
MiG-29 on an airfield
Ilyushin Il-76 on a Soviet postage stamp
205 strategic bombers
160 Tupolev Tu-95
15 Tupolev Tu-160
30 Myasishchev M-4
230 medium bombers
30 Tupolev Tu-22M
80 Tupolev Tu-16
120 Tupolev Tu-22
1,755 fighters
90 Sukhoi Su-27
540 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29
700 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23
185 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
200 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31
40 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25
2,135 fighter-bombers
630 Sukhoi Su-24
535 Sukhoi Su-17
130 Sukhoi Su-7
500 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27
340 Sukhoi Su-25
84 tanker planes
34 Ilyushin Il-78
30 converted Myasishchev M-4s
20 converted Tupolev Tu-16s
40 AWACS aircraft
40 Beriev A-50
1,015 jamming and reconnaissance aircraft
50 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21
170 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25
190 Sukhoi Su- 7R
235 Sukhoi Su-24
200 Jakowlew Jak-28
130 Tupolev Tu-16
30 Tupolev Tu-22M
10 Ilyushin Il-20
620 transport aircraft
45 Antonov An-124
55 Antonov An-22
210 Antonov An-12
310 Ilyushin Il-76
around 3,000 other civil and transport aircraft that could easily be converted into military transports in the event of mobilization . This involved around 1,400 aircraft from other transport aircraft subordinate to the air force (with Tu-134, Tu-154, An-26) and at least 1,800 Aeroflot aircraft.

Commander in Chief (selection)

See also


Web links

Commons : Soviet Air Force  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet fighter planes . Transpress, Berlin 1985, p. 9.
  2. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet bomb planes. 1989, pp. 13-17.
  3. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet bomb planes. 1989, p. 18.
  4. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet fighter planes . Transpress, Berlin 1985, p. 44.
  5. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet bomb planes. 1989, pp. 19-34.
  6. ^ Karl-Heinz Eyermann: The aviation of the USSR 1917-1977 . Transpress, Berlin 1977, p. 62.
  7. Russell Miller: The Soviet Union in the Air War . 1993, p. 119.
  8. Alexei Ivanovich Shachurin: Wings of Victory. Military Publishing House of the GDR, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-327-00822-1 , p. 261.
  9. ^ Karl-Heinz Eyermann : The aviation of the USSR 1917-1977 . Transpress, Berlin 1977, pp. 93 and 96.
  10. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet bomb planes. 1989, pp. 35-42.
  11. ^ Wilfried Copenhagen: Soviet bomb planes. 1989, pp. 66-80.
  12. a b List of USSR bombers in 1990
  13. a b List of fighters / fighter-bombers of the USSR in 1990
  14. Günter Weisse: NATO-Intelligence: The military intelligence in the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) 1985-1989 , ibidem Press, 2014 ISBN 978-3-8382-6563-6 , Section 3.2.6 .: The air transport associations VTA