The Soviet Ilyushin Il-2 succeeded where the British Fairey Battle had failed. Immense strength and armoured protection, powerful armament and committal to combat under heavy fighter protection all combined to render the bronirovannyi shturmovik (armoured assault aircraft) a decisive weapon in the Soviet armoury during the final two years of the war in Europe.
Christened the 'flying tank' by the Soviet infrantrymen, and the schwarzer Tod (Black Death) by the men of the German army, the Il-2 originated as a two-seater but was modified to a single-seater and in this form was entering service with the V-VS at the time of Germany's invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941. However, in those early months of almost total German air supremacy the early Il-2s emerged amidst a welter of criticism, being found to lack punch against the enemy's armoured fighting vehicles (their principal targets) and hopelessly vulnerable in the presence of enemy fighters.
The aircraft accordingly underwent rapid redesign, the great armoured 'bath' that constituted the pilot's cockpit being extended to accommodate a rear gunner with heavy-calibre machine-gun. The 1,680-hp (1253-kW) AM-38 engine was replaced by a 1,750-hp (1306-kW) AM-38F, and the two wing-mounted 20-mm ShVAK cannon gave place to high muzzle velocity 23-mm VYa guns.
The new two-seater Il-2m3 entered service from August 1942, and thereafter gun, bomb and rocket armament underwent progressive increase as the production accelerated. By the winter of 1943-4 vast numbers of II2m3s were in service (some sources put the number as high as 12,000), and remained in constant use up to and beyond the end of the war in Europe. Their use in combat was almost invariably confined to attacks from extremely low level, often no more than 6 m (20 ft), the favourite tactic being to circle to the rear of enemy forces in single line-ahead stream to attack the thinlyarmoured rear of German tanks. Many shturmovik pilots were holders of the Gold Star of Hero of the Soviet Union, and women pilots were by no means rare. The Il-2m3 proved to be extremely popular among its crews, particularly on account of its ability to survive battle damage, many aircraft returning to base riddled by enemy ground fire, the armoured 'bath' alone remaining unscathed. More Il-2s were built (36,183) than any other single type of aircraft.
Specification Ilyushin IL-2 m3 (late model)
Type: two-seat assault aircraft
Powerplant: one 1,770-hp (1320-kW) Mikulin Am-38F liquid-cooled inline piston engine
Performance: maximum speed 404 km/h (251 mph) at 760 m (2,500 ft); service ceiling 5945 m (19,500 ft); range 600 km (375 miles)
Weights: empty 4525 kg (9,976 lb); maximum take-off 6360 kg (14,021 lb)
Dimensions: span 14.60 m (47 ft 10% in); length 11.60 m (38 ftO'/a in); height 3.40 m (11 ft 1 Vz in); wing area 38.54m2 (414.4 sq ft)
Armament: (typical) wing-mounted armament of two 37-mm (1.46-in) and two 7.62-mm (0.3-in) guns, and one 12.7-mm (0.5-in) machine-gun in the rear cockpit, plus 200 2.5-kg (5.5-lb) PTAB hollow-charge anti-tank bombs, or eight RS-82 or RS-132 rocket projectiles