Soviet Aircraft - Great Patriotic War
Looking at the USSR from 1920-1930, military aviation started almost from zero. In the early part of creating a fleet, the Soviet State had only small number of aircraft (from prior regime) with several pilots (who neither fought with the opposing force nor emigrated). This gave room for creating new ideas that were not restricted by old theories.
During the Civil War (1918-1922), the Red Army AF functioned only as a supporting force for the ground forces and almost all units were attached to the ground army. A first precept on using military aviation was the “Provisional field regulations” of 1920, which emphasized support of the ground forces.
Between the wars, Germany largely influenced the development of Soviet aviation doctrine. The new Soviet state needed experience in building its armed forces. Germany, for its part lacked training places for pilots and needed place to apply new ideas of building aircraft. Germany took a part in creating the Soviet aviation industry. For example, the Hugo Junkers factory in Fili near Moscow or the aluminum (kolchugalumin at that time) created at the Kolchugins factory in 1922.
German doctrine stressed fundamental cooperation with ground forces at the operational level and did not pay attention to strategic bombing theory. Nearly four years of cooperation had a major influence on the developing doctrine and structure of Soviet military aviation.
The Soviets first tried creating a separate heavy bomber fleet under the direct orders of the highest command echelon, making the heavy bomber fleet independent from ground commanders.
The importance of developing the Air Force also came from the Civil War-era military leader Frunze, who later became Commissar for National Defense. In his writings of 1923, he argued that war in the air would be decisive in future conflict. RKKA Chief of Staff Marshall Mikhail Tukhachevski in his theory of the “deep battle,” airpower played a main role in preparing for breakthrough by mechanized and tanks units, and later supporting them from the air by moving deep into the enemy territory.
War in Spain had a big influence on the development of Soviet military aviation. The next combat experience for RKKA military aviation was in the Khalkhin-Gol conflict with Japan. The hostilities officially were started 22 May 1939. There also the fighters (especially I-15BIS) was used, after July, for attack ground targets under strong cover of another fighters (I-16 and I-153 Chaika). The final combat experience before WWII for Soviet military aviation was the war against Finland.
The advantage of experience gained from combat cannot be overemphasized. It verified the need for air superiority before other force branches would work on their objectives. The idea of using AF against ground targets (enemy forces in the battlefield, communications, and reserves, etc.) also was developed.
A special commission for developing aviation convened on 19 December 1936. It involved Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Ordzonikidze, Kaganovich, Tupolev, Alksnis and others. The main result was a development program for aviation industry in 1937. In December 1937, the chief of the Air Force of the Red Army, A. D. Loktionov, signed to Soviet aircraft designers and industry a plan for the experimental construction of aircraft for 1938, which provided for the development of new aircraft of different classes and destinations with the terms of presentation for state tests from August to December 1938. Among them were to be: maneuverable and high-speed fighters with air-cooled engines; speed fighter with a motor-gun of liquid cooling; long-range scout, he is a multi-seat fighter; high-speed near-bomber; attack aircraft, he is a nearby bomber; an artillery spotter and an army scout. Bombers: distant, heavy and stratospheric; transport and amphibious, etc.
None of the planned aircraft entered into mass production. But the flight and tactical data that Loktionov asked aircraft designers to design in 1938, significantly exceeded those that were asked of them for experimental aircraft in the future in the plans for 1939 and even for aircraft that were tested in 1940-1941. The result of the effort was that only KB Sukhoi accomplished its work in the period between 1937-1940. Two very good bombers-sturmoviks were created: SU-2 and SU-4 with M-82 engine. These aircraft entered service in VVS RKKA beginning in 1942.
In very hard conditions people started production in new places, sometimes working under the open sky. At that time two aircraft factory directors Shekman and Tretyakov got this telegram: “You betray our country and our Red Army. You have not to this date produced the IL-2. Red Army needs IL-2 aircraft as air, as bread. Shekman gives one IL-2 per day, Tretyakov one-two MIG-3. There is a rout on the Red Army. I ask you to not frustrate the government. I require you to produce more IL-2. This is your last warning.” (National Defense Commissar I.V. Stalin P553). After that IL-2 production increased, partly by reducing MIG-3 production.
Tremendous changes in USSR military aviation happened after General A.A. Novikov was assigned as VVS Commander (11 Apr 1942). His reformations created Air Armies, which took airpower application to a higher level. The Air Armies enabled force concentration, flexibility, and quick reaction to changes in the situation. Novikov’s next step was to develop communications, which was a weakness in military aviation.
When the Red Army launched its final assault on Berlin in May 1945, the Soviet Air Force deployed 7,500 aircraft in support of the advancing troops. At this culminating moment in the war, the Soviet Air Force boasted 18 air armies with an inventory of over 15,000 operational aircraft. World War II concluded with the Soviet Union possessing the largest tactical air force in the world.