Ilyushin IL-2, the Russian Stukas


Source: Joe A. Kunzler

“Il-2 Shtrumovik Making A Pass Past the Paine Field Aviation Day Crowd” by AvgeekJoe is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By: Joe Lam, Journalists

Dive-bomber/ground attack fighter were a key factor during World War 2, for they are small enough to bomb a key area without harming the area around it (like a enemy HQ within a town), but, they are big enough to to destroy a key target and provide accurate cover fire for the ground forces when needed. Many of the major countries during WW2, like US, UK, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and USSR, all have their own type of dive-bombers. The US have the Helldiver and the Dauntless, UK have the Vengeance, the Nazis have the Stukas, Imperial Japan have the Aichi D3A Type 99 (also more famously known as the “Val” to the allied forces), and the Soviets have the IL-2


The idea of a aircraft that be used to dive-bomb/ground attack have comes to the (newly formed) Soviets during the 1930s. Where the Red Army have the TSh-1 and TSh-2 designed by Dmitry Pavlovich Grigorovich. The TSh-1 and 2 were both heavy, two-seater, armored, biplanes that can wreck targets like a enemy FLAK gun emplacement. But, the Red Army know that the TSh-1 and 2 were terribly outdated because by the late 1930s to the early 1940s, other major countries have already replaced all of their biplanes with monoplanes. The Red Army, of course, know that they need to replace their old biplanes with something better. So, after they gained approval from Soviet leader Josef Stalin, they Red Army turned to Sergey Ilyushin and his design teams in the Central Design Bureau to design and produce a monoplane heavy dive-bomber that have good performance, because that is one of the many problem that the TSh-1 and 2 have. So, Ilyushin and his design team begins to do their magic and produced the TsKB-55. This is the early design of the IL-2. This design featured 1 pair of wings (of course), required 2 crew members, and carried a total of 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms) of armor to protect itself. Ilyushin and his design team improved the design, and got the official Il-2 model ready for production. During Operation Barbarossa, in which Nazi Germany invades Soviet Union, four different companies were ordered to mass-produce the Il-2. During this time, most of the factories had to be moved to avoid of been captured by the Germans, and so, early productions for the Il-2 were a bit slow. Stalin does not like that, and so, he sent out a telegram message to the company Shenkman and the company Tretyakov telling them to hurry up or else. This is Stalin’s quote followed (translated):

“You have let down our country and our Red Army. You have the nerve not to manufacture Il-2 until now. Our Red Army now needs Il-2 aircraft like the air it breathes, like the bread it eats. Shenkman produces one Il-2 a day and Tretyakov builds one or two MiG-3s daily. It is a mockery of our country and the Red Army. I ask you not to try the government’s patience, and demand that you manufacture more Il-2s. This is my final warning.”

After that little speech from Stalin, those 2 companies are now making Il-2 and MiG fighters as fast as you can make bread. And it helped the Il-2 earn a world record for one of the most produced fighter aircraft of WW2 (about 36,000).


The Il-2 is a powerful dive-bomber in it’s time, and with their large numbers, makes for a total nightmare for the Luftwaffe (German air force).

Length: 11.65 meters (38 feet and 3 inches)

Width: 14.60 meters (47 feet and 11 inches)

Height: 4.17 meters (13 feet and 8 inches)

Weight: (when fully loaded) 6,360 kilograms (14,021 pounds)

Crew needed: 2 (1 pilot, 1 rear gunner)

Armament: two 23 mm VYa-23 cannons, two 7.62 mm ShKAS machine guns, one 12.5 mm machine gun attached to the rear, eight RS-82 rockets or four of the RS-132 models, and six 100 kilograms bombs

Speed: 250 mph (410km/h)

Range: 475 miles (765 km)

Ceilings (how high can it go): 20,870 feet (6,360 meters)

Engines used: a single Mikulin AM-38F liquid-cooled V12 engine, can produce up to 1,280 horsepower

Design Features and Combat Record

The Il-2 were imminently put into use right after the German invasion. But, there is a lot of confusion as the pilots, who just know barely anything else beside of landing and takeoff, have no idea how to use them, and so is their commanding officers. And so, the German pilot have a easy time blasting the Il-2 to bits without fearing that they are going to be shot down. But the Red Army were fast learners, and pretty quickly the pilots becomes expert on how to ground-attack, dive-bomb, and other important skills that may save their lives. It had shine throughout many battles. During these battles, the German pilots, who are sent out to fight these Il-2, had a pretty hard time trying to shoot down them. Mainly because that the Il-2 is one of the most well-armored aircraft, so much to the point that many people call it the “Flying Tank”. The “Tank” is also well-armed, too. But, the early models which went into service doesn’t have a place for a rear turret (in fact, the Il-2 was never meant to have a rear gunner in the early designing stage). But with combat experience, the Red Army know that they need a rear gunner for their Il-2. And so, these Il-2 that does not have a rear turret were fitted with improvised section made out of canvas. And (like I mentioned in the stats section) a 12.7 mm machine gun is fitted. At the same time, Ilyushin and his design team went ahead and extended the cockpit to fit the gunner and the machine gun. Even though the Il-2 is a devoted dive-bomber/ground-attacker, sometimes it will have to do some dogfighting against German fighters like the BF-109. But many Il-2 were lost with that.

Il-2 vs. Stukas

This video would explain the differences between the Il-2 and the Stukas

Il-2 vs. SBD Dauntless

Both of them can be deadly if in the hands of a wise pilot, but, the Il-2 is on another level than the Dauntless. But the Dauntless is not famous for nothing.


Il-2: 250 mph, Dauntless: 255 mph


Il-2: 475 miles, Dauntless: 1,115 miles


Il-2: two 23 mm cannons, two 7.62 mm machine guns, one 12.7 mm machine gun, Dauntless: two 12.7 mm machine guns, two 7.62 mm machine guns


Like I mentioned many times before, many iconic designs were quickly replaced/retired by the many different armed forces after WW2. But, the Il-2 chugged along. Been passed to many of the Warsaw Pact countries (such as Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and others) during the late 1940s to the early 1950s. But they are all retired when the jets fighter comes in during the 1960s. Many them, however, survived and lived on (many of them still remain airworthy) in many different museums around the world. With examples in places like Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum located in Washington state, USA, Vadim Zadorozhny Museum of Technology located in Moscow.

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