|NOTES:||A kit that deserves all the praise it has garnered since its release.|
I’ll start this kit review with a book review. “Red Star Against the Swastika” is an autobiography by Shturmovik pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Vasily Emelianenko.
Emelianenko joined the 7th Guards Order of Lenin Ground-Attack Regiment in January of 1942, and flew Shturmoviks (and survived!) until the end of the war. Along the way, he has shot down three times while flying countless attack missions against the Wehrmacht.
The book opens with a great introduction by Vladimir Vershinin, which provides a nice summary of the development history of the IL-2 and its use in the war. The material that follows is taken from the book and its introduction…..
While the Soviet Air Force became an independent service in 1932, it was still closely tied to the ground forces. Soviet doctrine held that the airplane was not a decisive weapon on its own; rather it existed to cooperate with the ground forces, and could only be used in their interests. In a bit of a contradiction, the Soviet Air Force did not have a dedicated ground attack aircraft in the period leading up to the start of WW2.
The IL-2 was designed in response to a call for a dedicated ground attack plane first issued in 1937. In 1938, S.V. Ilyushin made a proposal for a “flying tank”, using the latest high-powered engine and construction techniques. He was authorized to build prototypes for testing in 1939, but a series of difficulties caused multiple delays, and the plane wasn’t really ready for test flights until March of 1940.
The first series of test flights didn’t go well. The aircraft had a new purpose-designed engine, and there were a variety of teething problems. The aircraft was also falling short on most of the other important specifications, including range and speed. In August, 1940, the decision was made to change the plane from a two-seater to a single seater—the idea being that eliminating the second seat would result in desperately needed weight savings.
By December 1940, the aircraft had passed some of
the tests, but was still suffering from engine reliability problems, and the
23mm guns hadn’t been delivered.
The plane hadn’t been through any combat acceptance
tests yet, but incredibly, on 9 December 1940, the order was issued to put the
plane into mass production, even with the outstanding engine and armament
In May of 1941, the first planes were delivered to the operational squadrons. The plane they received was a single seater, with an armament of two machine guns and two 20mm cannon. Additionally the plane could carry four rockets and two bombs. The aircraft also carried an armored tub that ranged in thickness from 4 to 12 mm in thickness.
When the war came, the IL-2 was, in terms of performance and armament, a run-of-the-mill ground attack plane, but one with extra armor. While the armor got the plane lots of press as a “flying Tank”, in practice it wasn’t that useful. The armor added a lot weight, making the plane significantly less nimble, and was no protection against the German anti-aircraft Flak cannons. The war experience would show that speed and maneuverability would be more important in the ground attack mission.
During the early part of the war, the IL-2 squadrons suffered tremendous losses. Part of that was due to the inexperience of the pilots. When Emelianenko first joined his squadron, the pilots had no instruction on how to conduct bombing or rocket attacks. There was no bombsight, and the pilots had to figure out how and when to drop bombs while flying combat missions! But the aircraft was building a fearsome reputation, not because of any special qualities of the aircraft itself, but because of the bravery and skill of the pilots. Pilots would fly missions no matter what the odds, often accomplishing their mission only at great cost. But pilots like Emelianenko learned how to fly circuitous routes over the featureless steppes at very low altitudes. In the face of German air superiority, the only way to survive was to escape detection.
By mid-1943, the first IL-2 two-seaters were entering squadron service. The two-seaters were created in an attempt to stem the losses inflicted by enemy fighters, but at first the pilots were not too keen on adding a gunner. The extra weight affected performance, and the gunner’s limited field of fire with a single gun wasn’t likely to drive off a determined Bf-109 pilot. Additionally, the gunner wasn’t as well protected as the pilot, and the pilots felt responsible when they pressed home an attack on a dangerous mission and returned home with a seriously injured or dead gunner.
Early two-seaters suffered from the added weight of the second crewman, which had a real impact on the maneuverability of the plane. The addition of a second person affected the center of gravity, so a few months later the design was modified so the outer wing panels were swept back to move the center of lift aft to compensate for the added weight. This brought the controllability of the plane back to the level of single seaters.
In the end, the key to reducing losses from enemy
fighters was better coordination with friendly fighters.
As the losses dropped in 1943 and 1944, the value of the
second crew member became apparent—assisting the pilot in navigation,
communications, and coordination with other Il-2s and their fighter escort.
Development of the Il-2 continued throughout the war, with the ultimate version,
the IL-10, appearing in 1945.
Vasily Emelianenko was a composer with the Moscow
Symphony, when he answered a call for pilots and joined a civilian flight
training club in 1932.
He eventually became an instructor, and managed to get a
transfer to the Air Force after the German invasion.
In his early days, it is a miracle he survived—the IL-2 squadrons took terrible losses. During the course of the war, he was shot down three times—once in friendly territory, but the other two were much more dramatic. One time he crash landed in no-man’s land between the Soviet and German lines, and escaped because the nearby infantry reacted quickly and provided enough covering fire to allow him to escape.
Emelianenko’s other crash was the sort of thing you wouldn’t believe if you saw it in a movie. After the squadron had attached a German target, he was shot down behind German lines, crash landing on the Steppe. A German platoon was only about a km away, and immediately made for him, with support from an Armored Car. Fortunately, one of his squadron mates saw his predicament, and came back to his aid. The pilot made several passes at the approaching infantry, driving them back. He then landed on the steppe and picked up Emelianenko, squeezing him into the baggage compartment of his single-seat plane. While this was going on, the Armored Car and the German platoon renewed their attack. The overloaded IL-2 took off, while taking fire from the Germans.
Emelianenko’s ordeal wasn’t over that day—the overzealous rescuer then resumed his attack, making multiple passes on the Germans, taking fire, but destroying the Armored Car in the process! In his book, Emelianenko reflected on how ironic it would have been if he had been rescued from certain death or capture, only to die in the un-armored baggage area of his rescuer’s plane!
Emelianenko continued to fly missions for the rest of the war, interrupted only by a couple of relatively short training assignments. His late war missions were flown in support of Soviet attacks on the Crimean Peninsula.
Overall, the fit of this kit is fantastic. All of the praise sent its way when the kit first came out was well deserved! For example, the kit is engineered so that any ejection pins are in parts that won’t show after the model is assembled. Construction starts with the cockpit. Everything fits well.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
Soviet aircraft were painted in standard colors- the colors were specified by the Soviet equivalent of the Air Ministry. The colors used on the IL-2 were from the “AMT” series, as in “AMT-1, AMT-2, etc. The colors for a 2-seater IL-2 in 1943 are: Underside: AMT-7 matte grayish-blue. Topside: AMT-1 matte light grayish brown; AMT-4 matte camouflage green; and AMT-12 matte dark gray.
The colors throughout the instructions are called out in Tamiya colors, with some mixing required. But some of them just didn’t look right to me, especially after doing a little research online. For example, Tamiya tells you to paint the underside of the model with the XF-23 light blue, for example—but that is really their Luftwaffe color, and not a very good match for AMT-7, which is a much brighter blue.
While I didn’t always like Tamiya’s recommendations on colors, I do like their paints, so I used them for all the external colors-- though some mixing was required:
The Tamiya decals looked so thick, and the surface of the fuselage is so smooth, that I was afraid the edges would really stand out. I went online looking for aftermarket decals, and found a sheet from Authentic Decals, sheet #4804, which features 17 schemes for IL-2 and IL-2M3 Shturmoviks. I was pleased to find that one of the schemes was Emelianenko’s “White 100”, with the music graphic on the side of the fuselage. (In his book, there is a picture of Vasily in the cockpit of this plane, with the artwork clearly visible.)
Highly recommended. This is another winner from Tamiya. I really enjoyed the build. The fit is fabulous, and detail is fine to boot. I don’t normally build Soviet subjects, but I’m glad I built this one, and I’m very proud of the result.
Review kit courtesy of my wallet. The kit isn’t cheap, but you get what you pay for. (And if you shop around, you can get it for less than MSRP. I got mine at the local shop for 40% off during their end-of-year sale.)
Special thanks to Pip Moss of the IPMS Patriot Chapter in Bedford, Massachusetts for taking all the great pictures of the completed model.
There is a lot of great information on the IL-2
Vasily Emelianenko’s biography is a great read, and can be found on Amazon and from used book dealers for a reasonable price. (I got a copy from the library.) I highly recommend it!
Red Star Against the Swastika, The Story of a
Soviet Pilot over the Eastern Front , ,
,by Vasily B. Emelianenko
,Greenhill Books, London © 2005
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