IL-2M3 Stormovik

“Our Red Army needs IL-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats.”

— Joseph Stalin



Ground Attack – The Il-2’s combination of heavy cannon, rockets and bombs can destroy an entire tank column by itself.
Durability – Although not invulnerable to enemy fire, the Il-2 can absorb more damage than other planes of its size and weight.


Speed – With a top speed of a little over 200 mph, the Il-2 requires fighter escort to make it to the target.



In 1937 Sergei Ilyushin’s idea of building a “special low-altitude attack aircraft with powerful attack armament” was approved for experimental manufacture. Originally designed as a two-seat monoplane with semi-retractable landing gear, the most notable feature was its integrated armor plating. The forward fuselage, from the engine to the crew compartment, was an armored steel tub between 4-8mm thick, which could deflect .30 cal bullets as well as larger rounds fired from an oblique angle.

Originally intended to use the AM-34FRN engine, it was changed to use the AM-35 high-altitude engine. However, the power drain from driving the supercharger harmed low altitude performance. Additionally, the engine’s critical altitude of 14,750 ft was far higher than the plane’s intended operating altitude. The Mikuln design team therefore set about making a non-supercharged version of the engine, designated the AM-38, which was capable of putting out 1,600 hp.

On orders from the Commissar for the Red Air Force, the BSh (Boronirovaniy Stormovik – armored attack aircraft) was converted to a single-seat version, along with other improvements called for by flight testing of the prototype. The armament was improved to two ShKAS 7.62mm machine-guns with 750 rpg and two PTB-23 cannon, but the recoil of the new cannon was twice as high as promised and it was quickly replaced with the ShVAK 20mm cannon with 500 rpg.

Production was finally authorized in December 1940, but by the time the Nazis invaded there were only 18 aircraft in the hands of the 4th Attack Air Regiment at Voronezh. These pilots had only had time to make a few circling flights themselves and, being originally intended as a training squadron, had no operational experience or even combat weapons training. However, the needs of the situation threw them into the fray and they had to develop both the skills and tactics. Throughout the war Il-2 pilots would always be under-trained with as little as ten hours type experience before being committed to combat.

Combat with the plane revealed several weaknesses, including a tendency of the wing-mounted ShVAK cannon to jam. This was solved by the introduction of the new 23mm VYa cannon with 300 rpg. The bigger problem though was that the planes were extremely vulnerable to attack from the rear. Because of their slow speeds and the inexperience of the pilots, they were sitting ducks for the experienced Luftwaffe Jagdgruppen. The clamor from the front lines demanded some sort of rear defense.

Ironically enough, the original design was to be a two-seater, but by now the production lines were running with single-seat versions and designing an updated integral “tub” armor system was out of the question. Several attempts were made with various turrets and installations at the factory, including the use of an M-82 radial engine to save weight.

In the end the gunner’s position was placed outside of the integrated armor and was given its own armor plating. This caused the center of gravity to be shifted dangerously to the rear and increased the total weight of the plane by almost 2,000 lbs., necessitating a reduction in the ammo load of the VYa-23s . Several minor modifications were made to improve stability, but the Il-2M, as it was known, was ordered into production in order to get the rear defense to the front as soon as possible.

While production shifted to the Il-2M, a more satisfactory solution was devised. This included a more elevated gun position to allow the gunner a better field of fire, a semi-enclosed gun position, and most notably, a distinct sweep back to the forward edge of the outer wings. The Il-2 Type 3 also used an upgraded AM-38F engine, which put out more power at a lower compression ratio, thus allowing the use of lower octane fuels.

Despite their heavy armor plating, Il-2s were vulnerable to enemy ground fire and fighters, with 1 in every 26 sorties resulting in a lost plane. Early in the war, Il-2 pilots were awarded the “Hero Of The Soviet Union” medal upon the completion of just 10 successful missions. Later this was raised to 100 missions, which gives an idea of the improvements to both the Il-2’s survivability and the rise in Soviet air superiority.

In a famous telegram threatening a factory director for not producing enough Il-2s, Stalin wrote that, “The Il-2 aircraft are necessary for our Red Army now, like air, like bread.” This was proven by its prolific use with over 35,000 Il-2s being built, more than any other aircraft in World War II.





Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Il-2 Stormovik In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1995.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri with Medved, Alexander; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume Two: Twin-Engined Fighters, Attack Aircraft and Bombers; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1999.

Curtiss P-40E-1A Kittyhawk

P40E1a_Kittyhawk01 (1)

“The P-40 carried three fifty calibre Browning Colt machine guns on each wing. The guns were cocked hydraulically and those hydraulics gave us so much trouble that we eventually disconnected them entirely, and from then on the guns were cocked manually before the airplane went up. The only disadvantage to this was the fact that the pilot could no longer cock the guns from the cockpit, should one or more misfire for any reason. This wasn’t a serious problem, though, as these guns were very dependable, but they had to be properly serviced.”

— Max Crandall, Corporal, No 111 Squadron RCAF



Durability – The P-40E continued the trend of being able to sustain great amounts of battle damage, making it capable of absorbing far more damage than the native Russian fighters.

Guns  – Six .50 caliber machine guns with 280 rpg gives the Kittyhawk pilot more hitting and killing power than any Soviet fighter except the La-5FN and La-7.


High Altitude Performance  – Despite the newer engine, the P-40E is still rather sluggish and unresponsive at high altitude. In particular the climb rate and ceiling were poor compared to contemporaries such as the Spitfire and Bf-109.


Early in 1940 the new Allison V-1710-39 engine became available, and Curtiss set about redesigning the P-40 to accommodate the new power plant. The new P-40D model was visibly different from the P-40C, but in fact bore the new Curtiss development designation “Hawk 87A”.

The most visible difference from earlier P-40s was the addition of a deeper radiator “chin” under the engine. This new engine arrangement necessitated the removal of the nose-mounted machine guns in favor of placement in the wings, two .50 caliber machine guns being mounted in each wing with 280 rpg.

After a production run of only 22 P-40Ds an extra .50 caliber machine gun was mounted in each wing, the subsequent model being designated the P-40E by the US Army and the Kittyhawk I by the RAF. In addition to the improved armament, the “E” model incorporated newer hydraulic gun chargers, which replaced the unreliable mechanical charging system that was generally bypassed in the field. Additionally, the P-40E could carry either a 52-gallon drop tank or a 500 lb. bomb under the fuselage.

As P-40s were starting to be phased out of US service, surplus aircraft were shipped to the Soviet Union under the “Lend-Lease” program. Despite being obsolescent as a front-line fighter, the P-40 was capable of carrying larger bombs than the native designs and was more durable, thus finding itself a place as a ground-attack fighter.

As with many other foreign designs, the plane’s armament was augmented by the installation of rails to allow it to carry four RS-82 rockets. However, unlike the British Hurricane whose .303s were quickly replaced, the six .50 caliber guns were sufficiently heavy to wreak havoc on the numerous enemy soft-targets and installations.



McDowell, Ernest R.; Curtiss P-40 In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1976.
Green, William; War Planes of the Second World War: Fighters Volume Four; MacDonald and Company, London; 1961.

Yakovlev Yak-9UT

“Stalin’s Flying Trebuchet”

Introduced in March 1945, the Yak-9UT saw limited duty in combat trials before the German surrender. But in that short time, the big-gunned Yak made an impressive showing.



Firepower – The Yak-9UT’s 37mm and twin 20mm cannons give it an incredible salvo weight of 13.2 lbs. per second.
Speed – A top speed of over 400 mph gives the Yak-9UT performance on par with the best planes of each country.


Durability – Small and light, the Yak was incapable of absorbing much combat damage.
Range – A thirsty engine and small fuel capacity limits the Yak’s range.
Ammo Load – The fast firing 37mm cannon goes through its supply of 30 rounds in a surprising hurry.




A further development of the Yak-9U, the Yak-9UT was designed to take advantage of the versatility of the airframe and its ability to mount a large gun between the engine cylinders. While not designed for field modification, a 23mm, 37mm, or 45mm gun could be easily substituted on the production line.

The hardest hitting of these variants was the one that used the new N-37 gun (the 45mm variant required removal of the two 20mm cannon, thus reducing the overall salvo weight). The N-37 was a smaller and lighter version of the NS-37 used in the Yak-9T. It was equipped with a highly effective muzzle break that eliminated up to 85% of recoil forces thereby eliminating the worst problem associated with large caliber gun installations.

Introduced in March 1945, the Yak-9UT saw limited duty in combat trials before the German surrender. But in that short time, the big-gunned Yak made an impressive showing. One unit had 19 encounters and shot down 27 FW-190A-8s and a Bf-109G-6 for the loss of only 2 of their own number.




 Stepaniets, A.; ‘Yak’ Fighters of WWII Period; Mashinostroenie Publishing, Moscow; 1992.
Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Yak Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1986.
Gordon, Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engine Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Lavochkin La-5FN

“That was an excellent fighter with two cannons and a powerful air-cooled engine…The first La-5s from the Tbilisi factory were slightly inferior, while the last ones from the Gorki plant, which came to us from Ivanovo, were perfect. At first we received regular La-5s, but then we got new ones containing the ASh-82FN engine with direct injection of fuel into the cylinders. It was perfect. Everyone was in love with the La-5. it was easy to maintain too.”

— Viktor M. Sinaisky, Pilot



Maneuverability – The La-5FN was superior to its Bf-109 and FW-190 opponents in all aspects of aerial maneuvering at low-altitudes and could hold its own at 20,000 feet.


Durability – Designed more for early war opponents, the wood and fabric covered fuselage and wings were less durable than the heavier metal planes like the FW-190.


With many vital factories in the path of the invading German forces, the order was given to move them to the east. Among these were the Klimov and Mikuln engine factories. To prevent the interruption of fighter production, the Yakovlev, Lavochkin, and Mikoyan design teams were ordered to adapt their designs to accept the 1,676 hp Shvetsov M-82 14-cylinder radial engine, which was manufactured in Perm and was thus not threatened by the Nazi advance.

Being occupied with improving the reliability and survivability of the LaGG-3, the Lavochkin design team didnít even start their conversion until after the converted MiG and Yak prototypes had already flown. Neither previous project had shown any improvement in performance and both were abandoned.

With hundreds of his engines piling up in his factory, Arkady Shvetsov was desperate to find a use for them. Meanwhile, the combat failings of the LaGG-3 were such that there was talk of converting production to the new Yak-7B fighter, which would give Yakovlev a monopoly on fighter production in the Soviet Union. The end result of their meeting was that Shvetsov sent top engineers to the Lavochkin factory to lend assistance in the conversion process and to help solve any problems that were discovered during testing.

The conversion wasn’t easy. The Shvetsov engine was a 1 1/2 feet wider than the widest portion of the LaGG fuselage and weighed 500 lbs. more than the Klimov inline, thus altering the center of gravity. However, the results more than justified all the hard work as the prototype was declared an immediate success and was ordered into series production.

The plane was not without its problems however, chief among those was the one of weight. The heavier engine and heavier armament (2x 20mm ShVAK with 170 rpg in the cowl) gave it an empty weight of almost 7,500 lbs. and it was obviously inferior to the Bf-109F-4s and FW-190A-4s the pilots were facing.

Because the resin required to make Delta Wood was imported from Germany, the supply was starting to dry up, so during the La-5 production run the wing spars were changed from Delta Wood to ordinary pine, which were necessarily larger, but weighed the same. However, weight savings were to be found almost everywhere else on the plane and when combined with the new M-82F boosted engine, performance was improved such that the production planes were outperforming the original prototype.

The new La-5F was visibly different from La-5s in that the visibility to the rear had been improved by cutting down the decking and adding transparent panels. In combat it was a noticeable improvement, except in the armament, which had been reduced to a single 20mm cannon and a 12.7mm machine-gun. But this was only intended to be an interim version of the plane.

The improved M-82FN engine employed direct fuel injection as well as the boosted supercharger of the “F” model, improving performance at all altitudes. Replacing the two large wooden wing spars with a single metal spar saved weight while improving structural strength. A host of other weight savings improvements were made and with the additional engine power the armament was raised back up to two 20mm cannon with 200 rpg.

The La-5FN was noticeably superior to the FW-190A-4 and the newer Bf-109G-2 fighters at all altitudes up to 13,000 feet and Luftwaffe pilots learned to avoid combat with the new Lavochkin. Since the La-5FN was visually identical to the inferior La-5F, that plane also enjoyed the benefit of having an enemy on the defensive at low altitude.




Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; La 5/7 Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1998.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Hawker Hurricane Mk.IIB


“I was diving vertically while the Me 110 was climbing up at the same angle. At the crucial moment he stalled right across my bows and I squirted a good burst into his belly from such point blank range that the bullets could be seen striking and buckling the plating of its wings and fuselage.

“A flash of flame and a puff of smoke and I jammed the stick forward just in time to avoid colliding with him. I did not have to look for another target because straight ahead came another Me 110 firing as he came.

“He did not hit me but holding fire to the last minute as we flashed past each other less than 50 ft apart I caught a glimpse of a puff of white – and there was the 110 on its back with a parachute opened behind it.”

— Roland “Bee” Beaumont, 

Pilot, 87 Squadron



Guns  – The two 20mm and two 12.7mm guns give the Hurricane IIB a heavier armament than most native fighters and as good as that of the late-war Spitfires.


Performance  – By the time it got to  Russia the Hurricane was easily outclassed by the newer Messerschmitt and the Focke-Wulf fighters.

In August 1941, No. 81 and No. 134 Squadrons of the RAF were combined to form the 151 Fighter Wing. They and their planes, 12-gun Hurri-Bombers, were packed onto ships and were shipped to Vaenga, near Murmansk in northern Russia. Their task was to provide operational training to help convert Soviet pilots to the Hurricane.

After several months of training, including taking part in several bomber escort missions, the Wing packed their things and went back to England, leaving their Hurricanes for the Soviets. These were the first of about 3,000 Hurricanes (over 20% of the production line) that would be shipped to the Soviet Union under ìlend-leaseî.

While the planes were certainly welcome, the .303 armament was fairly useless when trying to shoot down bombers, even with twelve guns. To solve this problem, most of these Hurricanes were retro-fitted with a pair of 20mm ShVAK cannon with 100 rpg and a pair of 12.7mm Beresin machine guns with 250 rpg in place of the twelve Browning .303s. Additionally, rails were fitted under the wings to allow carriage of six RS-82 rockets, which combined with the two 250 kg. bombs to provide a good ground attack capability.



Scutts, Jerry; Hurricane In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX;1986.
Bowyer, Chaz; Hurricane At War; Ian Allen Ltd., London; 1974.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3


“I liked it at once.  It could be compared with a frisky, fiery, horse — in experienced hands it was to run like an arrow, but if you lost control you finished beneath its hooves.”

        – Aleksandra Pokryshkin, MiG_3 pilot




High Altitude Performance – Designed to fit the role, the MiG-3 is superior to most contemporary fighters above 20,000 feet.

Maneuverability – Many pilots claimed the MiG turned like an I-15 biplane. In flight tests at low altitude, the MiG was able to outmaneuver the Yak-1.


Stability  – The MiG is a handful and needs an experienced pilot to get the most out of it.


Early Soviet air combat theory was centered around the concept of using fast monoplanes to catch up with and engage enemy aircraft, so that the slower and more maneuverable biplane fighters were able to catch up and finish them off. The speed half of this theory was provided by the Polikarpov I-16 with the maneuver half being composed of the Polikarpov I-15 and I-153 fighters.

Late in 1939 Nikolai Polikarpov proposed the idea of making a new “maneuver” plane designed around the Klimov M-105P in-line engine with a 20mm ShVAK cannon firing through the propeller hub. However, upon evaluation of combat trends in Europe, including the disappointing results of the Soviet philosophy in Spain, the goal of the design was changed to that of a high-speed, high-altitude fighter using the new AM-37 engine then being developed by the Alexander Mikuln Design Bureau.

The task of designing and building a prototype for the new fighter, designated the I-200, was given to a Special Design Department under the leadership of Artyom Mikoyan. Included among Mikoyan’s deputies was a young engineer named Mikhail Gurevich. The fledgling design team made good use of being situated in the Soviet Union’s most advanced aircraft factory and soon produced a prototype of composite construction (mixed wood and metal), built around the AM-35A engine as the AM-37 was not available. Because the ShVAK 20mm cannon would not fit between the cylinder heads of the new engine, the armament was downgraded to a single Beresin 12.7mm and two ShKAS 7.62mm synchronized machine guns in the cowl.

The new fighter, now dubbed the MiG-1, had more than its share of teething problems. The first problems to surface were related to engine cooling, which was so bad that full engine power could not be used. However, the most serious problems were due to a lack of longitudinal and lateral stability. Experienced test pilots continually commented on how often they came close to disaster.

After initial trials, a list of 112 required improvements was submitted. In October 1940, while in the process of implementing these improvements, a batch of 25 MiG-1s was completed and sent to the 146th Fighter Air Regiment for operational trials. In February 1941, the first MiG-3s, as the improved version was known, were delivered to training units. After further crashes, it was suggested that biplane flight techniques were not suited to the new high-speed fighters and after several trials, it was proved that over-correction during loops would result in a spin.

By April 1941, MiG-3s were coming off the production line at a rate of nine per day. Despite this, improvements continued to be made, including the addition of a Beresin 12.7mm machine gun in a pod under each wing.

Although over 900 MiG-3s were distributed along the western front in June 1941, only a few squadrons had managed to master the aircraft. When the Germans attacked on June 22, 1941, the Luftwaffe paid particular attention to destroying any MiG-3s they found. Just days before the attack the 9th Mixed Air Division had received 233 new MiG-3s, but they lost 347 of 409 operational aircraft on the first day of the war with almost all of the MiG-3s destroyed on the ground by bombs.

However, reinforcements were soon forthcoming and new MiG units began to arrive on the front almost every day. In combat with the Luftwaffe, the MiG proved it could hold its own at low altitudes while at higher altitudes the MiG-3 completely outclassed the Bf-109E.

The MiG’s greatest success came in the defense of the capitol from 1941 through 1943. Of 8,278 sorties directed against Moscow, only 207 bombers managed to get through. The MiG also proved to be the only Soviet fighter capable of operating at extreme altitudes as was proven on September 28, 1941 when a MiG-3 of the 124th Fighter Air Regiment downed a German reconnaissance plane at over 32,000 feet.

But with more promising designs on the drawing board and the need the use the new AM-38 engine on the Stormovik, the decision was made to cease production of the MiG fighter. The MiG’s record didn’t help matters and neither did the fact that it was being made by the Soviet Union’s most prestigious aircraft factory.





Gordon, Yefim, and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single Engined Fighters;  Midland Publishing, Leicester, England, 1998.

Morgan, Hugh: Soviet Aces of World War II;  Osprey Publishing, Oxford, UK, 1997.

Yakovlev Yak-9U


“The Yak 9 was also a platform for the modified Yak-9r – long range reconnaissance airplane. It was built on the basis of Yak-9, had extra fuel tanks and reduced armament. But most noticeable difference was not armament, but photo camera. Where should be second cabin, a photo camera was placed with large focal distance…We flew quite far; Yak-9r had extra fuel tanks, which provided us with combat radius similar to Pe-2.”

– Alexandr Borisovich Krasnov, Senior Lieutenant recipient of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union 



Speed  – A top speed of over 400 mph gives the Yak-9U performance on par with the best planes of each country.


Firepower  – With only a single 20mm cannon and two 12.7mm machine guns, the Yak-9 requires too much time on target to down the heavier mid- to late-war planes it faced.

Durability – Small and light, the Yak was incapable of absorbing much combat damage.

Range  – A thirsty engine and small fuel capacity limits the Yak’s range.


Rather than being a further development of the Yak-3, the Yak 9U was the culmination of improvements made to the two-seat trainer version of the original Yak-1. In fact, the first Yak-9 appeared in service before the Yak-3 project had gotten underway.

The UIT-26 prototype was developed in early 1940 and used many of the same components as the Yak-1. The wings were moved aft to compensate for the additional weight of the second cockpit and pilot, but otherwise it was basically a two-seat Yak-1. Of course this meant that it shared many of the same flaws and they were too numerous to allow novice pilots to fly the plane. However, it was thought that the type would serve as a good mount for experienced pilots making the conversion from the I-16 to the new Yak, LaGG and MiG fighters, and so it was ordered into production as the Yak-7UTI.

Armament consisted of the standard engine-mounted ShVAK cannon and a single 7.62mm ShKAS machine gun in the cowl and the plane had basically the same performance as the Yak-1s of the period. Soon, a tactical reconnaissance version of the plane was developed as the Yak-7R, which had an armored backrest and reduced the armament to just the 20mm cannon.

This plane proved to be very stable and much easier to fly than the Yak-1. The strengthened landing gear and overall structure allowed it to carry greater loads and it soon became obvious that it could be developed into a good long-range “heavy” fighter. The Yak-7 fighter was borne, with a single 20mm engine-mounted cannon with 120 rpg, two 7.62mm ShKAS machine guns with 750 rpg in the cowl and six rocket launch rails under the wings.

Initially retaining the second cockpit, the Yak-7 was eventually made into a true single-seat version. When the availability of duralumin became more widespread, the basic design was converted to use structural parts made of the new metal. The result was dubbed the Yak-9. Additional fuel tanks were installed in the metal wings, which increased range at the expense of weight and thus performance.

When the Klimov M-107A engine finally became available in early 1943 it was mated to a Yak-9D airframe with the result being called the Yak-9U. This new version had the armament increased by adding a second 12.7mm machine gun to the single 12.7mm and single 20mm gun armament of the Yak-9 and Yak-9D. Fuel capacity was increased even more and further improvements to the streamlining allowed the Yak-9U to exceed 400 mph at 18,500 feet. Overall, performance and handling were considered to be on par with the American P-51D Mustang.



Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Yak Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1986.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Yakovlev Yak-3


“In combat potential, the Yak-3, La-7 and La-9 fighters were indisputably superior to the Bf-109s and Fw-190s. But, as they say, no matter how good the violin may be, much depends on the violinist. I always felt respect for an enemy pilot whose plane I failed to down.

The La-7 had top-notch flying characteristics. It was a very obedient plane, which attained a high speed by the standards of those days. I must say that the La-7, the La-9 and Yak-3 were perfect planes. Their characteristics virtually reached the ceiling for piston-engine planes.”

– Air Marshal Ivan Kozhedub, Soviet Ace 



Low Altitude Performance –  The Yak is one of the most versatile fighters in the game, being capable of outrunning anything that can outturn it and able to outturn anything that can outrun it.


Durability – A small, light plane made largely of wood, the Yak is more fragile than its contemporaries.

Firepower  – With only a single 20mm cannon and two 12.7mm machine guns, the Yak-3 requires too much time on target to down the heavier mid- to late-war planes it faced.

High Altitude Performance – As with most Soviet planes using the M-105, the plane performed best below 15,000 feet.

Range  – A thirsty engine and small fuel capacity limits the Yak’s range.


With the problems inherent in the Yak-1 design and the coming war with Nazi Germany looming ahead, the Yakovlev team started work on a new prototype. Originally designed to use the Klimov M-105PD with two-stage Dollezhal Ye-100 supercharger, problems with the supercharger meant that the first prototype had to use the less powerful M-105P.

Potential top speed was increased by improving the airflow over the oil cooler and radiator inlets as well as a reduction in wingspan of about two and a half feet. But without the more powerful supercharger, performance was marginal at best. However, despite these problems the plane was ordered into production as the Yak-3.

Due to a variety of issues, Yak-3 production didn’t actually begin for almost a year after the production order was issued. However, the delay had a positive side in that by the time production started, an even better engine, the M-105PF was available for installation. Further tests were conducted into boosting the engine power to wring every last ounce of horsepower out of the engine. When all was said and done, the Yak-3 would be able to top 420 mph at altitude.

Armament was initially the same as the Yak-1, but was later improved by adding a second 12.7mm machine gun to the cowl. The Yak still exhibited some handling quirks at low speeds, but overall the Yak-3 was an easy plane to fly with outstanding performance that outpaced the Bf-109G-2 at all altitudes up to 18,000 feet and the FW-190A-4 at all altitudes up to 27,000 feet.



Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Yak Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1986.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Yakovlev Yak-1B, Series 2

One well known Yak-1 pilot was Lydia Litvyak, often called “The White Rose of Stalingrad,” who was one of the first two female pilots to be considered an ace. With eleven solo victories and three team kills, she still has the highest number of kills of any female pilot.



Handling – An easy plane to fly, more pilots found success in the Yak-1 than in either of the two contemporary designs (the MiG-3 and LaGG-3).


Firepower – With only a single 12.7mm machine-gun to augment the engine-mounted 20mm cannon, the Yak-1 requires more time on target to get a kill than either the LaGG-3 or MiG-3.



A close personal friend of Josef Stalin, Alexander Yakovlev was given control of several aircraft factories in the Moscow region, which produced a series of basic trainers. In December 1938 a discussion between the two men centered on the possibility of building a fighter around the new Klimov M-105P 12-cylinder, water-cooled engine (a copy of the Hispano -Suiza HS-12Y). A month later the NKAP issued the design directive that also resulted in the LaGG-3 and MiG-3.

The I-26 prototype was made of mixed metal, wood, and fabric construction. The fuselage back to the cockpit was made of steel tubing covered by duralumin panels while the section aft of the cockpit was made of made of plywood spars covered by fabric. The wing was a one-piece affair utilizing a wooden box spar frame design with plywood skinning covered in varnished fabric.

As with the other designs culminating from this competition, the I-26 was rushed into production despite a laundry list of design flaws and production defects, which prevented it from meeting the design requirements. Initially fitted with a 20mm ShVAK cannon with 120 rpg firing through the propeller spinner and a pair of synchronized 7.62mm ShKAS machine-guns with 375 rpg in the upper cowl, the second series saw the 7.62mm ShKAS guns replaced with a single 12.7mm Beresin machine-gun with 250 rpg.

Redesignated the Yak-1 by Stalin in December 1941, the “B” version was an unofficial designation indicating the cut-down rear-cockpit design with transparent panels that was field modified by Major Shinkarenkovís regiment to improve visibility to the rear.

In combat the Yak-1 was considered to have superior handling characteristics to pilots that flew it and captured examples of the German Bf-109F and FW-190A and in action was the most successful of the three designs. Additionally, ground crews found it to be an easy plane to maintain, requiring as little as 20 minutes to refuel and rearm and only 6 hours to replace the engine-cannon assembly.


Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Yak Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1986.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998..

Lavochkin LaGG-3 (Series 4)

“It was an unpleasant client! Preparing the LaGG-3 for flight demanded more time in comparison with other planes. All cylinders were supposed to be synchronized: God forbid you from shifting the gas distribution! We were strictly forbidden to touch the engine! But there were constant problems with water-cooled engines in winter: especially as there was no anti-freeze liquid. You couldn’t keep the engine running all night long, so you had to pour hot water into the cooling system, in the morning. Furthermore, pilots didn’t like flying the LaGG-3 – a heavy beast with a weak M-105 engine – but they got used to it. Even so, we had higher losses on LaGG-3 than on I-16s”

— Viktor M. Sinaisky, Pilot



Gun Convergence  – Having all the guns in the nose makes gunnery easier than having to worry about convergence.


Handling  – The LaGG was a difficult plane to fly and often exhibited unexpected behaviors.

Speed  – The LaGG’s weight caused it to be the slowest of the three planes ordered in the 1939 design competition.


With combat reports from Spain revealing that the new German Bf-109 was totally outclassing the I-16 Ishak, the Soviet government put out a request in January 1939 for a new type of fighter design that would compete with the Messerschmitt’s performance. Ten design teams responded to this request and three planes were eventually ordered into production: the LaGG-3, the MiG-3, and the Yak-1.

A year before the design specification had been issued, Semyon Lavochkin, Vladimir Gorbunov, and Mikhail Gudnov had begun work on their mostly wooden fighter design and submitted their design into the competition. Remarkably, none of the three had ever designed an aircraft before, but barely 14 months after submitting their design, the I-301 prototype made its maiden flight.

Because of their extensive experience in plastified wood construction, they proposed that most of the plane be made of a Bakelite-wood compound called Delta Wood, which had twice the density of organic wood compounds and was thus strong enough to be used for main spars. However, the technical skills required to work with Delta Wood meant that gearing up for production would be a slow and laborious process, requiring extensive training to get the work force up to speed. However, the immediacy of the Nazi threat meant that less than ideal conditions were more acceptable and despite this shortcoming the type was ordered into series production on July 29, 1940.

The first three production series were fitted with a standard armament of three 12.7mm Beresin machine-guns with 220 rpg and two 7.62mm ShKAS machine-guns with 325 rpg, all arranged in the nose, one of the 12.7mm machine guns being engine-mounted. On the fourth production series a single 20mm ShVAK cannon with 120 rpg was mounted between the engine cylinder heads to fire through the propeller hub, necessitating the removal of two of the 12.7mm machine guns.

One noteworthy feature of the LaGG was that it used a unique fire-retardant system achieved by pumping inert gases from the port exhaust into the fuel tanks, thus depriving potential fires of oxygen. However, the LaGG was a difficult fighter to fly and thus saw much less success than either the Yak-1 or MiG-3. In fact pilots used to joke that “LaGG” stood for Lakirovanny Garantirovanny Grob, or the “Varnished Guaranteed Coffin”.

On the plus side, the Delta Wood construction was extremely durable and was able to sustain a large amount of combat damage and still return home. But the additional weight of this dense material reduced performance and LaGG production always involved a fight to keep overall weight down.



Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; LaGG Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1996.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Polikarpov I-16/28 Ishak (Little Donkey)

“Nine rammings took place on the very first day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, one within the first hour. At 0425 hours on 22 June 1941, Lieutenant I. I. Ivanov drove his Polikarpov I-16 into the tail of an invading Heinkel He 111.

Some soviet aircraft like the Polikarpov I-16 had wings strengthened for this purpose.”




Maneuverability – The I-16 is second only to the A6M2 in terms of maneuverability.
Ammo Load – While 150 rpg for the wing cannon, the Rat has more than twice the cannon ammo load of the Bf-109E.


Speed – The I-16 is the slowest fighter in the game and can only outrun the slower, early war bombers such as the Stuka and Va.


Convinced that the monoplane design was necessary in order to attain high speeds in a fighter, Nikolai Polikarpov’s design team was commissioned to produce a monoplane fighter in May 1933. The prototype was designed around two engines; with the TsKB-12 being based on the 480 hp M-22 nine-cylinder radial (a copy of the Bristol Jupiter VI) and the TsKB-12bis using the 600 hp American-made Wright-Cyclone SGR-1820-F2 engine of the same configuration.

The plane used a variety of construction methods, including an all-wood fuselage covered in birch ply skin and wings made of two-stainless steel trussed spars with duralumin ribs and leading edges, all covered by fabric. The streamlining was made even more effective by the use of retractable landing gear, the first to appear on a production fighter. Initially the armament consisted of a pair of 7.62mm PV-1 machine guns with 900 rpg mounted in the wings.

After replacing the fabric wing covering with stressed duralumin sheet and fixing a few other bugs, acceptance trials were successfully completed and production began on the I-16 Type 4 in 1934 at the GAZ-39 factory in Khodinka. Because the Wright-Cyclone engine wasn’t yet available in quantity, the Type 4 used the proven, but less-powerful M-22 engine.

Meanwhile, with diplomatic relations between the United States and Soviet Union were thawing. The Soviet government obtained a license to build a copy of the improved Wright-Cyclone SGP-1820-F3 engine. Designated the M-25, it was rated for 700 hp at take-off and was finally cleared for production in October 1936. The first version to use this new engine was the I-16 Type 5, which was able to reach a top speed of 283 mph, about 50 mph faster than the Boeing P-26A Peashooter then in service with the US Army.

The Type 5 also saw its armament improved by replacing the 7.62mm PV-1 machine guns, which had a rate-of-fire of about 780 rounds per minute, with the new 7.62mm ShKAS machine-guns, which had a rate of fire of about 1800 rounds per minute. Additionally, racks under the wings were installed so that it could carry up to 440 lbs. of bombs. The Type 5 was the principle version flown in combat in Spain and was still in active service when the Nazis invaded Russia on June 22, 1941.

Improvements to the design and power plant continued with each major revision being designated as a new “Type”. The Type 6 introduced a more powerful, 730 hp version of the M-25 and the Type 10 added a pair of 7.62mm ShKAS machine-guns with 650 rpg in the cowl. The M-10 was also the first version that could use retractable ski-landing gear, thus making the plane a true “all-weather” fighter.

The Type 17 saw the most radical improvement in firepower by replacing the wing-mounted machine-guns with 20mm ShVAK cannon equipped with 150 rpg. But while the weight kept increasing with each new type, engine power was not keeping pace and the top speed was now only 264 mph. The Type 18 was the answer to this need for more power. It used the new 1000 hp M-62 engine, another Wright-Cyclone based design. The M-62 was equipped with a two-stage supercharger and top speed was raised to 288 mph with the ceiling being increased to over 31,000 feet.

The I-16 Type-28 had the M-62 engine replaced by the 1,100 hp Shvetsov M-63 and was accepted in the first half of 1940. By this time, over 2000 I-16s were in operation in the Soviet Air Force and it remained the principle type in service at the time of the invasion.



Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; Polikarpov Fighters In Action, Part 2; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1996.
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.

Lavochkin La-7

“On February 19, 1945, 1 was on a lone-wolf operation together with Dmitry Titorenko to the north of Frankfurt. I noticed a plane at an altitude of 350 meters (2,170 feet). It was flying along the Oder at a speed that was marginal for my plane. I made a quick about-face and started pursuing it at full throttle, coming down so as to approach it from under the ‘belly.’ My wingman opened fire, and the Me-262 (which was a jet, as I had already realized) began turning left, over to my side, losing speed in the process. That was the end of it. I would never have overtaken it if it had flown in a straight line. The main thing was to attack enemy planes during turns, ascents or descents, and not to lose precious seconds.”

—Ivan Kozhedub,  Air Marshall

Awarded the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union



Speed – Production fighters were able to reach 407 mph at 20,000 feet and the La-7 outperformed its German contemporaries at all altitudes lower than that.
Maneuverability – As with the La-5FN, the La-7 could outmaneuver its opponents in both the vertical and horizontal plane.


Durability – The retention of wooden components gave the La-7 a disadvantage over the all-metal fighters it faced.


By 1943, the power output of the modified, improved and injected M-82 engine was as high as it would ever get. Hopes for improved performance in the Lavochkin fighter were thus pinned on adopting the new M-71 radial, but development problems with the engine kept it from entering service until after the war.

That left the Lavochkin team with making improvements to the airframe in order to get better performance. Working with a basic La-5 airframe, considerable changes were made to aerodynamic structure by moving inlets and a careful redesign of the cowl. Replacement of some wooden parts with lighter metal ones resulted in an overall weight savings, which combined with the improved aerodynamic shape to give the prototype a 40 mph improvement in top speed over the production La-5FN.

Initial versions were fitted with a pair of 20mm ShVAK cannon with 200 rpg in the cowl, but when the lighter Beresin B-20 cannon became available, production was switched to include three of these weapons with 150 rpg. The La-7 was both faster and more maneuverable than the FW-190A-8 at all altitudes up to 20,000 feet and a total of 5,905 La-7s were delivered.





Stapfer, Hans-Heiri; La 5/7 Fighters In Action; Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, TX; 1998
Gordon; Yefim and Khazanov, Dmitri; Soviet Combat Aircraft of the Second World War Volume One: Single-Engined Fighters; Midland Publishing Limited, Leicester, England; 1998.