Tamiya 1/48 Ilyushin IL-2
KIT #: 61113
PRICE: $81.00 SRP
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Bill Michaels
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 problems.  

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. 


 Normally, I’d point the reader to a previous in-box review here on MM, but surprisingly, there isn’t one!  So I’ll have to include a quick description…..

 Tamiya’s kit comes well packed in a sturdy box, with all the sprues individually wrapped in a plastic bag.  The kit is molded in Tamiya’s standard dark grey plastic. Two sets of clear parts for the pilot’s canopy are provided—open and closed.  A “cut it out yourself” canopy mask is provided, too.  There are parts and decals for three options included in the kit.   You also get both 250 Kg and 100 Kg bombs, and two different wing cannon styles.

 The kit is very well engineered— where ever possible, the sprue attachments are placed in places that won’t show when the parts are assembled.  Parts are also keyed so that they can only fit one way, too.


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.

 The kit provides a seatbelt decal—so I decided to try to use it.  (Something I’ve never really tried before.)   I applied to some thin lead foil and let it dry.  The next day, I tried to cut it free—but the decal started to lift and then flaked off.  So I ended up scrapping it, and going with some generic military seatbelts instead.

 The cockpit was painted with light gray.  For the IP, I used the kit decals.  They settled down well into the detail, and looked nice once dry.   I used little dabs of scale black simulate the chips and wear along the edges of the surfaces. There was only one seam that needed to be dealt with—a seam down the center of the gunner’s cockpit floor.  Rather than try to fill it, I covered it with a narrow strip of .010 styrene— once everything was painted, it looks like it belonged there.

 There really isn’t much to say about the basic construction.  The fit on everything was terrific, and the engineering of the kit is superb.  I love the way Tamiya will use differ sized tabs or keys on parts—so there’s no way you can put a part in backwards, or mix up left/right side parts.    In the end, the only place I needed any filler at all was a little bit of primer on the fuselage seam behind the gunner’s cockpit. 

 The kit comes with two sets of pilot’s canopies, one closed and one open.  Both are thin and very clear, and fit perfectly.  Tamiya gives you a set of canopy masks, with the outlines printed on a large piece of what looks like Tamiya tape.  You have to cut the pieces out yourself—but if you cut on the lines, the masks will fit perfectly.


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:

 Underside:  I started with a mix I found on sovietwarplanes.com of 50% XF-23; 30% XF-2 white; 20% XF-8.  That seemed too dark, so I then added in additional amounts of XF-23 to get the color a little lighter.

 Topsides:  For the XF-4 green, I used Tamiya XF-58; for the AMT-12 dark gray, I used XF-24; and for the AMT-1, I used a mix of XF-20 Medium Grey; XF-52 Flat Earth and XF-59 Dark Yellow in a 4:2:1 ratio.  I think my mix for AMT-1 is much better than the mix Tamiya has in the kit’s instructions.

 I started by painting the underside of the model AMT-7, let that dry, and then proceeded to do the topside colors. I masked the colors with ribbons of putty to give a little bit of a soft edge on the color edges.   I painted the topsides AMT-1, then applied the green, and finally the dark gray.  I let each color dry for a day or two before masking over it and going to the next one. 

 After all the colors had cured for a couple of days, I applied Future to prepare for decaling.   The plane only gets decals on the fuselage, fin/rudder, and fuselage; so I just brushed a couple of coats of Future on the areas where the decals would be going.

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.)

 The Authentic decals are very thin, but some of them were very fragile.  Fortunately, I made a couple of tests—the first one worked fine, but the next two shattered into many parts when they hit the water.   I then coated the rest of the sheet with some Microscale decal preservative, and then was able to use them. 

 After I treated them, the decals went down well, and only needed a little bit of MicroSol in a few places to settle down into the panel lines. Once they had dried, I over-coated them with Future, and the carrier film disappeared.   Once that was dry, I applied a clear flat coat to the whole model.

 These planes mostly flew off of rough airfields, flying at low altitudes in all sorts of weather. Many pictures of Il-2s show aircraft that are heavily worn and weathered as a result.  I simulated this with a heavy dose of drybrushed silver and dirt/dust colored pastels on the underside.   The July 2012 issue of Tamiya Model Magazine had a cover article on the kit.  That build showed some excellent weathering—I used it as inspiration for my build.


 I sanded a small flat spot on the wheels and installed them.  The bombs and rockets were painted and installed. The instructions that come with the Authentic Decals show that Emelianenko’s “100” was one of many planes that did not have the gunner’s canopy installed, so I didn’t install one on my model.


  Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to preserve the rudder counterbalance—I managed to break it off during construction.  (Oh well!)  One of these days I may try to scratch build a replacement….

 For the radio antenna, I used a piece of smoke colored invisible nylon thread.  It starts at the mast, runs back to the fin, and then ends in a #80 hole in the top of the fuselage..   The attachment at the mast goes through a small hole, and then loops back through a small piece of .3mm inside diameter brass tube.  An eyelet from Bob’s Buckles is the anchor for the antenna on the fin. 


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 online.   

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

 For info on Soviet colors and camouflage, the website www.sovietwarplanes.com is a great resource.

 Bill Michaels

June 2013

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