In World War II, The Soviet Union Made An Astonishing Comeback In Aviation In Just Two Years.

by Daniel Russ on October 16, 2013


Lavochkin LA-5


Certainly the common thread in the early days of World War II was the fact that both the Russians and the Americans were entirely outmatched by the Luftwaffe and the Imperial Japanese Air Forces. By the time the Russians in their lumbering I-153 Seagulls met the ME-109s and the Focke Wolfe -190s, the German pilots were not only flying better aircraft, their pilots were blooded, many having been part of the invasion of Western Europe and the titanic Battle of Britain. Many of the ME-109 pilots were already aces when they met up with Soviet pilots. The Japanese sent many a US Navy pilot cartwheeling into the Pacific Ocean because they also had experience in air combat in the expanding Japanese empire as well.


Soviet I-153 Seagull pilots had seen the ME-109 in the Spanish Civil War and they knew the German aircrafts were better. The Seagull could turn inside a Messerschmidt but could not out accelerate it. Nimble but slow the Soviet Seagull and I-16 Polikarpov could barely handle the German planes. Fortunately far more advanced engineering as creating the next generation of Soviet fighters.


Lavochkin LA-5



One of the great accomplishments of the Soviet Union in World War II was relocating 85% of the military industrial factories and sending them East to be reassembled. In just a few months at the end pf 1941, 10 million people and 2,500 manufacturing firms were moved out of the range of the German Army. The Soviet Union was a massive country and the distances were the bête noire of the Wehrmacht during the entire war.


On the first day of Operation Barbarossa, 300 Soviet fighters were sent to fiery graves. 1400 were destroyed while idle on airfields the Germans mapped out and struck. The 9th Air Force bosses and Western Soviet air commanders were held responsible. Chernykov was shot and Kopetz shot himself. These commanders were really young successful fighter pilots that were promoted perhaps a bit too quickly in light of the vacuum in leadership after the Stalinist purge of air officers in the 1930s. But failure in the Red Army was not tolerated.








Soviet fighters had no radio at the time and signals were often made with hands out of the cockpit. German pilots had radio control and ground control and worked as integrated units. The Soviets had one command hierarchy for the bombers and a different for the bombers. It took about two years before the Soviets figured out that bombers in formations have to cover each other. It took those two years before the Soviets finally had aircraft as good as or better than the Luftwaffe. By the end of 1941, the Germans lost 1800 aircraft and the Soviets lost 20,000. The 110,000 Soviet artillery tubes were now just 2000. The 22,600 Soviet tanks were now just 2000 tanks


The German advantage didn’t last that long.


Ilyushin created the IL-2 or Sturmovik strike fighter. It carried rockets, bombs, and had two 7.92 mm machine guns and a 30mm cannon on it. It had an armored bottom and the 36,000 or so the Soviets created probably did more to degrade the Wehrmacht and in particular to Panzer divisions than any other Soviet weapon system. As Soviet pilots gained experience, and their aircraft were upgraded, the Germans were surprised at how fast they learned and improved.





By the middle of 1943, the Soviet Union had another great strike fighter, the Lavochkin LA-5. With two machine guns and a 20mm cannon, this plane could out run an ME-109 and out climb and FW-190. It carried bombs and in the massive air battle over the Kaban Bridgehead, the new Soviet planes repulsed the Junkers 87 dive bombers and ME-109s.



Even Luftwaffe grand ace Gunter Rall, a man with 225 kills, said “the Russian LA-5 is a great plane and they have really learned quickly.”


By Operation Bagration, the campaign to drive the German Army Group Center out of Byelorussia, the Red Air Force outnumbered the Luftwaffe seven to one. The German could no longer count on air cover of any kind. Son, what air assets the German had would be diverted to protect Germany itself. The day and night bombing campaign conducted by the US and England diminished the Germans ability to replace aircraft and soon the end was near.


The Germans really believed that the Bolsheviks were inferior. It was this very bigotry that mid-wifed their own destruction. They were unprepared when the new Russian air force showed up.



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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 29, 2017 at 2:55 am

The almost destruction of the Red Airforce in the early weeks of Barbarossa was indeed a blessing in diguise. The Red Airforce were now able to get those new aircraft that were already in development, without the burden of all those obsolete, or obsolescent planes. In a way the Germans got that problem later in the war. They were still flying the Me109, although that plane was no longer top of the line, but it was deemed too costly, both in money, time and industrial capacity, to change to another, better, plane.

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