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Ilyushin's Shturmovik

Accurate Miniatures 1/48 Il-2m3

By Tom Cleaver

THE AIRPLANE

It is one of the incongruities of the Second World War that the IL-2 Shturmovik, the single combat aircraft type of the war built in the greatest numbers, an airplane attended by quite immoderate acclaim, should have been considered one of the least sophisticated, crudest, and most rudimentarily equipped. It was woefully slow and unwieldy, and would have been unlikely to have been found acceptable by any other air force than the one that flew it. Sergei Ilyushin's Shturmovik was the most vaunted and internationally best-known Soviet aircraft of the war, as evocative of resistance to the Germans by the Russians as was the Spitfire to the British. Shortcomings notwithstanding - and they were many - it was undeniably one of the decisive weapons of the conflict.

Affectionately known to its crews as Ilyusha, it was flown with valor by spartanly-trained pilots who frequently pressed home their attacks to release their ordnance at point-blank range. They suffered appalling casualties in the process, with attrition among Shturmovik regiments at times attaining levels far beyond what any other air arm than the V-VS would have accepted. Over half the 30,000 Shturmoviks built between 1941 and 1945 were lost in combat, and there were never more than 5,000 in service at any one time.

The IL-2 was capable of absorbing considerable battle damage and remaining airborne, yet it was easy prey for a Luftwaffe jagdflieger of only average ability,and was vulnerable to well-manned multi-barrel 20mm flak. It accepted the mishandling of inadequately-trained and inexperienced pilots, but was sluggish in the air, lacking the precise and rapid control response considered so vital in low level operations by other air forces; it possessed no endearing flying qualities. The one great virtue of Ilyushin's attack bomber was its amenability to mass production by workers of limited skill using only rudimentary jigging and tooling.

To the Red Air Force, the IL-2 Shturmovik was a legend in its own time.

THE IL2M3

The prototype of the IL-2, the AM-38, had originally appeared with a second seat inside the armored section, for a rear gunner. To save weight, however, the armored section was shortened and the airplane went into production as the IL-2 in single seat configuration. By early 1942, the vulnerability of the single-seat Shturmovik to fighter attack had been clearly demonstrated, and it was decided to add a rear gunner by the simple expedient of putting in a second cockpit behind the gas tank, outside the armored section. This was so austere that the seat was merely a length of folded-over canvas, and the armament was increased by equipping the gunner with a 12.7mm UBT machine gun. These Shturmoviks, which may or may not have been known as IL-2M (modified), were directly modified in the field from single-seaters and began coming out of the factory that summer. They were first met in any numbers during the fighting around Stalingrad.

The addition of gunner and weapon changed the center of gravity, which had an adverse effect on the already-bad flying characteristics of the airplane. Ilyushin was under orders not to modify the design in order to maximize production, but the instability of this change in center of gravity demanded attention. To remedy this problem , a new set of wings which were swept back 15 degrees was designed so that the center of aerodynamic pressure would be moved aft and allow for a more rearward center of gravity. This restored some stability to the airplane, and the first IL-2Mtip3s entered combat at the end of the Battle of Stalingrad. Like the single-seater, the outer wing panels were wooden, as was the rear fuselage aft of the armored section. By 1944, sufficient stocks of aluminum were on hand that the wing could be made entirely of metal, with a significant weight saving that went a long way to improving the flight characteristics of the later Shturmoviks; by the end of the war, even the rear fuselage was made of aluminum. The Tip 3 was the definitive Shturmovik, with more of this variant being produced than all others.

During 1943, one third of all Russian aircraft produced were IL-2s, and montly output exceeded 1,000 aircraft, which only just kept up with combat attrition. Also, by this time, the Luftwaffe was so reduced in numbers that the air-to-air attrition that had made Shturmovik operations during the first two years of the war so bloody were greatly reduced. While Shturmovik attack formations were provided fighter escort, the escorts were notorious for abandoning their charges at the first attack of any German fighters. By the second half of 1943, discplinary action was taken, and a sortie only counted for a fighter pilot if the shturmoviki made it to the target.

By this time, the preferred tactic was the "Circle of Death," in which a formation of 12-24 IL-2s would circle the target at an altitude of 400-500 meters, so that each aircraft protected the other's tail, and would attack in turn until their ammunition and ordnance was expended, often losing 20-30 percent of their number to 20mm and 37mm light flak. They would retire from the target by hedgehopping back to the front line.

With increased numbers of IL-2s and less protection from the Luftwaffe, German Panzer crews gave the Shturmovik far more colorful (and unprintable) nicknames than that of der schwarze Tod imaginatively imputed to them by Soviet propaganda. During 1944 the Germans extimate IL-2 losses at 7,500 aircraft, which is probably accurate; but by that time they were being produced at a rate of 1.5 per hour, on a 24 hour/7 day basis, and crews were pouring from 30 shturmovik schools. To the Germans, the airplane was ubiquitous by now.

The IL-2 became a decisive instrument of air warfare from the time the Soviet command assumed the offensive at Moscow in December 1941. It epitomized the Soviet concept of air operations as being an integral part of the ground battle. It was not the intrinsic qualities of Ilyushin's Shturmovik that enabled this single aircraft type to influence the conflict on the Eastern Front in favoe of the Soviet Union, so much as it was the fact it could be fielded in immense quantities.

THE MODEL

Prior to Accurate Miniatures' release of their Shturmovik trilogy of kits in November 1997, there had never been an accurate model of this important airplane available to modelers. The only possibility was a very old, exceedingly inaccurate 1/72 release from Airfix.

Coming on the heels of the Avenger and Dauntless, the Shturmovik is easily one of the best-designed injection-molded kits released. Out of the box, the cockpit - which is very spartan on the real airplane - provides everything a modeler really needs (though there are now resin aftermarket cockpit sets available for those suffering terminal AMS). Thetwo major production models from A-M are the IL-2 single seater, and the IL-2Mtip3 two seater. I decided to do the classic Shturmovik, the two-seater.

CONSTRUCTION

No Accurate Miniatures kit is ever likely to be as "shake 'n' bake" as a Tamiya product, and the IL-2 is a sterling example. This particular model was my second attempt at the airplane, and I had learned a lesson or two the first time around. While A-M tells you to read the instructions because they are the result of several models being built by different modelers - and I genrally both follow and preach that - there is one place where I detoured:

The upper wing is a very tight fit into the fuselage. Following AM's instructions to assemble the fuselage first, with the center section of the lower wing integral to this sub-assembly, then to glue upper and lower outer wings together before attaching them to the fuselage, results in some real difficulty in getting a nice snug fit, with some severe puttying needed in my experience.

What I did this time was attach the upper wings to the main fuselage before doing any other assembly. This way, I was able to slide the wing into the slot, push it back all the way and position it so tightly that almost no glue was needed, let alone any putty. I then followed the kit instructions for assembly of thecockpit and the fuselage halves, but did not attach the outer lower wing sections until I had finished the main assembly of the fuselage and attached the nose. Things went together much easier this way, and a lot less putty was used than on the first model.

MARKINGS AND PAINTING

What had prompted me to do this second Shturmovik was the release of a set of decals by SuperScale that included the markings for the IL-2Mtip3 flown by Twice Hero of the Soviet Union Captain Ivan Pavlov of the 6th Special Assault Regiment during early 1945. The airplane has a personal inscription to Pavlov: "To our fellow citizen, Hero of the Soviet Union Lt. I. Pavlov, from the workers of Kustanai," which was Pavlov's home town." The airplane also has a "three-dimensional" red star on the fuselage, which is a very striking marking. There are two photographs of Pavlov with his IL'2, and it appears to have a two-tone brown-green upper camouflage, in a pattern different from other shturmoviki.

I did the undersides in a more intense medium blue, which is apparently the real underside blue of Soviet World War II aircraft according to the VVS Modeler's Resource Page, a site I highly recommend for modeling Soviet Aircraft of World War II. I used a mixture of Gunze Sanyo Dark Earth and Mahogany Brown for the upper brown color, with a mixture of Gunze Sanyo Euro Green and RAF Green for the upper green color.

Once everything was dry and I had shot the model with Future, I applied the decals, using the kit decals for the detail markings. I then Futured the finished decals, and sprayed several coats of Dullcote to get the proper finish to the airplane. I had scuffed the metal wing where the crew would walk, also adding some mud smears from their boots, to give the airplane that "front line service" look.

Once all was complete, I attached the landing gear, canopies, props, and ordnance. I applied some mud spray on the underside of the wing, since the airplane had more than likely operated from a dirt strip for all its operational service.

CONCLUSION

There are now several IL-2 kits available in 1/72 scale, with AM's downsizing of their 1/48 kit coming soon. In 1/48, there is only the Accurate Miniatures kit, and that is all we need. This model more than lives up to the name of its birthplace;. it is indeed an accurate miniature.

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Air Intelligence
1999 Modelers'
Reference Guides

1/32 Scale Guide $18.00
1/48 Scale Guide $25.00
1/72 Scale Guide $25.00
HH-43 Huskie Color
Reference Guide $15.00

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