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The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik ( ) was a ground attack aircraft in the Second World War, produced by the Soviet Unionmarker in large numbers. In combination with its successor, the Ilyushin Il-10, a total of 36,163 were built, making it the single most produced military aircraft design in all of aviation history as well as the third most produced aircraft in history behind the Cessna 172 and the Polikarpov Po-2. It was a prominent aircraft for tank killing with its accuracy in dive bombing.

To Shturmovik pilots, the aircraft was simply the diminutive "Ilyusha". To the soldiers on the ground, it was the "Hunchback," the "Flying Tank" or, the greatest of compliments, the "Flying Infantryman". Its postwar NATO reporting name was "Bark". The Il-2 aircraft played a crucial role on the Eastern Front, and in Soviet opinion it was the most decisive aircraft in the history of modern land warfare. Joseph Stalin paid the Il-2 a great tribute in his own inimitable manner: when a particular production factory fell behind on its deliveries, Stalin sent a cable to the factory manager, stating "They are as essential to the Red Army as air and bread."

Design and development

Il-2M at the National Aviation Museum in Krumovo, Bulgaria

The idea for a Soviet armored ground-attack aircraft dates to the early 1930s, when Dmitry Pavlovich Grigorovich designed TSh-1 and TSh-2 armored biplanes. However, Soviet engines at the time lacked the power needed to provide the heavy aircraft with good performance. Il-2 was designed by Sergey Ilyushin and his team at the Central Design Bureau in 1938. TsKB-55 was a two-seat aircraft with an armoured shell weighing 700 kg (1,540 lb), protecting crew, engine, radiator, and the fuel tank. Standing loaded, the Ilyushin weighed more than 4,700 kg (10,300 lb), making the armoured shell about 15% of the aircraft's gross weight. Uniquely for a World War II attack aircraft, the armor was designed as a load-bearing part of the Ilyushin's monocoque structure, thus saving considerable weight. The prototype TsKB-55, which first flew on October 2, 1939, won the government competition against Sukhoi Su-6 and received VVS designation BSh-2. The prototypes - TsKB-55 and TskB-57 - were built at Moscow plant #39, which was the base for Ilushin design buerau at that time.

The BSh-2 was overweight and underpowered, with the original Mikulin AM-35 1,022 kW (1,370 hp) engine designed to give highest power outputs at high altitude. Because of this it was redesigned as the TsKB-57, a lighter single-seat design, with the more powerful 1,254 kW (1,680 hp) Mikulin AM-38 engine, a development of the AM-35 optimised for low level operation. The TsKB-57 first flew on 12 October 1940. The production aircraft passed State Acceptance Trials in March 1941, and was redesignated Il-2 in April. Deliveries to operational units commenced in May 1941.


The Il-2 was produced in vast quantities, becoming one of the most widely produced military aircraft in history. However, only 249 had been built by the time Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Unionmarker on 22 June, 1941.

Under the orders of NKAP dated January 7, 1941 and February 14, 1941 the initial production of Il-2 was placed at the following four aircraft plants:

Plant #18 (Voronezhmarker) - leading manufacturer and documentation holder. Airframe serial numbers were 18XXXX

Plant #35 (Smolenskmarker) - no production

Plant #380 (Leningradmarker) - no production

Plant #381 (Leningradmarker) - airframe serial numbers were 381XXX. 270 produced.

Production early in the Great Patriotic War was slow, due to the aircraft factories near Moscow and other major cities in western Russia having to be relocated east of the Ural Mountainsmarker after the German invasion. Ilyushin and his engineers had time to reconsider production methods, and two months after the move, Il-2s were again being produced.

The final manufacturers until the end of the war were:

Plant #18 (Kuybyshevmarker) - evacuated from Voronezh. 15099 produced.

Plant #1marker (Kuybyshevmarker) - airframe serials were XXXX. 11920 produced.

Plant #30 (Moscowmarker) - airfame serials were 30XXXX. 8865 produced.

At first the tempo was not to Premier Stalin's liking, however, and he issued the following telegram to Schenkman (Plant #18 director) and Tretyakov (Plant #1 director) on December 23, 1941:

Original russian text:









As a result, "the production of Shturmoviks rapidly gained speed. Stalin's notion of the Il-2 being 'like bread' to the Red Army took hold in Ilyushin's aircraft plants and the army soon had their Shturmoviks available in quantity."

At Plant #30 while at the top of the production 21 IL-2s were produced daily.

Operational history

Il-2 in Warsaw Military Museum

The first use in action of the Il-2 was with the 4th ShAP (Ground Attack Regiment) over the Berezina Rivermarker days after the invasion began. So new were the aircraft that the pilots had no training in flight characteristics or tactics, and the ground crew no training in servicing or re-arming. The training received enabled the pilots to only take-off and land, none of the pilots had fired the armament, let alone learn tactics. Only 249 Il-2s were available on 22 June, 1941. In the first three days, 4 ShAP had lost 10 IL-2s to enemy action, but a further 19 were lost to other causes. 20 pilots were killed in these incidents.By 10 July, 4th ShAP was down to 10 aircraft from a strength of 65.

Tactics changed as Soviet aircrew became used to the Il-2's strengths. Instead of a low horizontal straight approach at 50 metres altitude, the target was usually kept to the pilot's left and a turn and shallow dive of 30 degrees was utilized, using an echeloned assault by four to 12 aircraft at a time. Although the Il-2's RS-82 rockets could destroy armored vehicles with a single hit, they were so inaccurate that experienced Il-2 pilots mainly utilized the cannon. Another powerful weapon of the Il-2 was PTAB-2.5-1.5 HEAT bomblets (ProtivoTankovaya AviaBomba, Anti-Tank Aviation Bomb - the number means that it was the size of a 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) bomb, but weighed only 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) due to the empty space in the shaped charge). Up to 192 were carried in four external dispensers (cluster bomb) or up to 220 in the internal weapon bays. The HEAT charge could easily penetrate the relatively thin upper armor of all heavy German tanks. PTABs were first used in large scale in the Battle of Kurskmarker.

Thereafter, the Il-2 was widely deployed on the Eastern Front. The aircraft was capable of flying in low-light conditions and carried weaponry capable of defeating the thick armor of the Panther and Tiger I tanks. They were also proved capable of defending themselves against enemy aircraft, claiming an occasional Messerschmitt Bf 109.

The true capabilities of the Il-2 are difficult to determine from existing documentary evidence. W. Liss in Aircraft profile 88: Ilyushin Il-2 mentions an engagement during the Battle of Kursk on 7 July, 1943, in which 70 tanks from the German 9th Panzer Division were destroyed by Ilyushin Il-2s in just 20 minutes. In another report of the action on the same day, a Soviet staff publication states that:

Thanks to the heavy armor protection, an Il-2 could take a great deal of punishment and proved difficult for both ground and aircraft fire to down. One Il-2 in particular was reported to have returned safely to base despite receiving more than 600 direct shell hits and having all its control surfaces completely shredded as well as numerous holes in its main armor and other structural damage. Some pilots favored aiming down into the cockpit and wing roots in diving attacks on the slow, low-flying Il-2 formations. Several Luftwaffe aces claimed to attack while climbing from behind, out of view of the rear gunner, and aim for the Il-2's non-retractable oil cooler. The veracity of this has been disputed by some Il-2 pilots in postwar interviews, since Il-2s typically flew very close to the ground (cruise altitudes below 50 m (160 ft) were common) and the radiator protruded a mere 10 cm (4 in) from the aircraft. A major threat to the Il-2 was German ground fire. In postwar interviews, Il-2 pilots reported 20 mm (0.79 in) and 37 mm (1.46 in) artillery as the primary threat. While the fabled 88 mm ( in) gun was formidable, low-flying Il-2s presented a fast-moving target for the 88's relatively low rate of fire and while occasional hits were scored, Soviet pilots apparently did not treat the 88 with the same respect as high-flying Allied bomber crews.

The armored tub ranging from 5-12 mm (0.2-0.5 in) in thickness and enveloping the engine and the cockpit, could deflect all small arms fire and glancing blows from larger-caliber ammunition. There are reports of the armored windscreen surviving direct hits from 20 mm (0.79 in) rounds. Unfortunately, the rear gunners did not have the benefit of all-around armor protection and suffered about four times more casualties than the pilots. Added casualties resulted from the Soviet policy of not returning home with unused ammunition which typically resulted in repeated passes on the target. Soviet troops often requested additional passes even after the aircraft were out of ammunition to exploit the intimidating effect Il-2s had on German ground troops, who gave it the nickname Schlächter (Slaughterer), perhaps a play on the term Schlachtflugzeug ("ground attack aircraft"). Famous nicknames such as "The Flying Tank" and "Der Schwarze Tod" (the "Black Death") were created by soldiers. Luftwaffe pilots called it Eiserner Gustav (Iron Gustav) or the Zementbomber (Concrete bomber). The Finnish nickname maatalouskone ("agricultural machine" or "crop duster") derived from the habitual low attack pattern, "crop dusting", of the Il-2, as well as constitutes a word play with maataistelukone (ground attack aircraft, literally "ground combat aircraft" where kone, literally "machine", in turn is shortened from lentokone, aircraft, literally "flying machine"); it was considered very funny.

Il-2s over Berlin in 1945

While the Il-2 proved to be a deadly air-to-ground weapon, heavy losses resulted from its vulnerability to fighter attack. Consequently, in February 1942, the two-seat design was revived. The IL-2M, with a rear gunner under the stretched canopy, entered service in September 1942 with surviving single-seaters eventually modified to this standard. Later changes included an upgrade from 20 mm to 23 mm to 37 mm cannons, aerodynamic improvements, use of wooden outer wing panels instead of metal and increased fuel capacity. In 1943, the IL-2 Type 3 or Il-2m3 came out with redesigned wings that were swept back 15 degrees on the outer panels, and nearly straight trailing edges, resulting in a wing planform somewhat like the AT-6 trainer. Performance and handling were much improved and this became the most common version of the Il-2. A radial-engine-powered variant of the Il-2 with the Shvetsov ASh-82 engine was proposed in 1942 to remedy projected shortages in Mikulin inline engines. However, the ASh-82 was also used in the new Lavochkin La-5 fighter which effectively secured all available engines to the Lavochkin bureau. The radial engine Sukhoi Su-2 ground attack aircraft was produced in small quantities, but was generally considered unsuitable due to inadequate performance and lack of defensive armament. Soviet anti-aircraft artillery frequently mistook it for German aircraft, often with lethal consequences.

After the war, the Il-2 could be found in service with several Eastern European countries, with most of the Il-2/10 aircraft eventually scrapped with the advent of military jets. Only a handful of Il-2s survive to this day, including museum rebuilds of crashed airframes. In recent years, several Il-2 wrecks have been located and recovered from Lake Balatonmarker, a large, shallow lake in Hungarymarker, which is located near the historic site of a large World War II tank battle (see Operation Frühlingserwachen).


Famous Il-2 Pilots

Among the pilots who gained fame flying the Il-2 was Senior Lieutenant Anna Yegorova, who flew 260 missions. She was decorated three times, the last "posthumously", as she was presumed dead after being shot down. In fact, she managed to survive imprisonment in a German concentration camp. Junior Lieutenant Ivan Grigorevich Drachenko, another Il-2 pilot, was reputedly one of only four men who were both decorated as Heroes of the Soviet Union and also won all three of the Orders of Glory. Pilots Begeldinov, Mylnikov, Alekseenko and Gareev received two gold stars of the Hero of the Soviet Union; the last of them received both stars in one day.

Hero of the Soviet Union T. Kuznetsov survived the crash of his Il-2 in 1942 when shot down returning from a reconnaissance mission. Kuznetsov was able to escape from the wreck and hid nearby. To his surprise, a German Bf 109 landed near the crash site and the pilot began to scrounge around the wrecked Il-2 for souvenirs. Thinking quickly, Kuznetsov ran to the German fighter and used it to fly home, barely avoiding being shot down by Soviet fighters in the process.

Cosmonaut, Georgi Beregovoi, flew 185 missions on Il-2s. In 1962, he joined the Soviet space program and flew into space on Soyuz 3 in 1968.

Typical of Soviet Second World War aircraft, many Il-2s were "gifts" presented to specific pilots and partially paid for by organizations like hometowns, factories or comrades of another fallen pilot. The most famous of these was an aircraft purchased with the savings of a seven-year-old daughter of the fallen commander of the 237th ShAP. Learning of her father's death, the girl sent 100 rubles directly to Stalin asking him to use the money for an Il-2 to avenge her father. Remarkably, Stalin actually received the letter and 237th ShAP received a new Il-2m3 with the inscription "From Lenochka for father" on the side.

Il-2 Rear gunners: a deliberate sacrifice?

In his book Inside the Soviet Army, the Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov alleges the lack of protection for Il-2 rear gunners was part of a deliberate policy. Suvorov claims from 1942 on, all Soviet airfields had attached penal companies of air gunners. Such companies were made up of prisoners who were considered to be "enemies of socialism" or "enemies of the people." The air gunners were not provided with either armour protection, or allegedly, parachutes and were reliant entirely on their machine guns to ensure their own survival. The death rate among the air gunners was exceptionally high. According to Suvorov, prisoners who survived could theoretically clear their sentences after nine missions. The prisoners, however, were always transferred to mine clearing or other units for "medical reasons" before this could happen.

Many Il-2 pilots and rear gunners do not remember seeing or hearing about any prisoner crews, and German propaganda may have broadcast this claim as well. In recent years, documents from the Soviet archives have come to light indicating the Soviet Air Force did in fact use "penal squadrons" in some situations, but although they may have been considered expendable, there is no evidence that they would have been deliberately sacrificed.

The rear gunner was in fact provided with armor protection from the start, but this was only 6 mm (.23 in) thick, and protected the gunner only from behind and was not effective against rounds more powerful than rifle-calibre machine guns. Moreover, no armor protection was provided at all for rear gunners of early single-seat Il-2s which had been field-modified to include a rear gunner. So desperate was the need for rear protection that a hole was cut in the fuselage panelling behind the cockpit to make room for a gunner. The gunner sat on a canvas sling with an improvised turret for a Degtyarev machine gun.


Two-seat prototype, AM-35 engine, first flight: 2 October 1939.
VVS designation for TsKB-55 prototype.
Single-seat prototype, AM-38 engine, first flight: 12 October 1940.
Il-2 (TsKB-57P)
Single-seat serial airplane, AM-38 engine, first flight 29 December 1940, some delivered to combat units in May-June 1941. Renamed to Il-2 in April 1941. Cannons 20 mm ShVAK or 23 mm VYa (depending on factory which manufactured Il-2).
Il-2 two seat
Two-seat version, AM-38 engine, first action 30 October 1942 near Stalingrad. Maximum bomb load reduced from 600 kg to 400 kg. Used on edges of flight formations for defence against German fighters. Quickly replaced by "Il-2 production of 1943".
Il-2 production of 1943
Referred in west as "Il-2M". Powered by an upgraded AM-38F engine. Delivered to front units since early 1943. In 1943, 20 mm ShVAK armed Il-2 production faded out, leaving only 23 mm VYa versions.
Il-2 with NS-37
Referred in west as "Il-2 Type 3M". Based on two seat Il-2, armed with Nudelman-Suranov NS-37 instead of 20/23 mm cannons, this version is an approach to anti-tank airplane, prepared for the Battle of Kurskmarker. However, combat effectiveness was quite low and production of version was limited to about 3,500. Moreover, bomb load decreased from 600 kg to 200 kg. It was replaced by conventional Il-2 attackers armed with cassettes with cumulative bomblets.
Il-2 production 1944 "wing with arrow"
Referred in West as "Il-2M3" or "Il-2 Type 3". As more duralumin became available for the Soviet aviation industry, the Il-2 received a full-metal wing consoles. At the same time, they were swept back since the centre of gravity shifted back after the gunner was added. That regained controllability of the two-seat Il-2 back to level of the one-seat Il-2.
Training version, also known as UIl-2.
Torpedo bomber version for the Soviet Navy with removed 23 mm cannons (for saving weight), able to carry a single 45 cm (18 in) torpedo, largest sunk ship was about 6,000 tons of displacement . Existence of version is currently disputed.
Armoured fighter, prototype only. Conception based on the several dogfights which Il-2 started against Luftwaffe bombers. Proved non-perspective due to only old Luftwaffe bombers could be caught by it.
Il-2 with M-82
A backup project prepared while plants producing AM-35/AM-38 were evacuated. Trials demonstrated that with fighter engine loss of low-altitude performance and controllability was unacceptable.


  • Bulgarian Air Force - received 120 Il-2 and 10 training Il-2U in 1945. The type was operated between 1945 and 1954.
  • SFR Yugoslav Air Force - received 213 aircraft all versions and used it until 1954. Used by:
    • 421st Assault Aviation Regiment (1944-1948)
    • 554th Assault Aviation Regiment (1945-1948)
    • 422nd Assault Aviation Regiment (1944-1948)
    • 423rd Assault Aviation Regiment (1944-1948)
    • 3rd Training Aviation Regiment (1945-1948)
    • 81st Assault Aviation Regiment (1948-1953)
    • 96th Assault Aviation Regiment (1948-1954)
    • 107th Assault Aviation Regiment (1948-1953)
    • 11th Assault Aviation Regiment (1948-1952)
    • 185th Mixed Aviation Regiment (1949-1952)

Specifications (Il-2M3)

A restored Il-2 at Sør-Varanger museum in Norway.

See also




  • Bergström, Christer. Barbarossa - The Air Battle: July-December 1941. London: Chevron/Ian Allen, 2007. ISBN 978-1-85780-270-2.
  • Donald, Donald and Jon Lake, eds. Encyclopedia of World Military Aircraft. London: AIRtime Publishing, 1996. ISBN 1-880588-24-2.
  • Glantz, David M. and Harold S. Orenstein. The Battle for Kursk 1943: The Soviet General Staff Study. London: Frank Cass, 1999. ISBN 0-71464-493-5.
  • Gordon, Yefim and Sergey Kommissarov. Ilyushin IL-2 and IL-10 Shturmovik. Wiltshire: Crowood Press, 2004. ISBN 1-86126-625-1.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. "The Annals of Ilyusha: Ilyushin's Proliferous Shturmovik" Air Enthusiast, Issue Twelve, April-July 1980. Bromley, Kent, UK: Pilot Press., 1980. pp. 1—10, 71—77. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Gunston, Bill. The Osprey Encyclopedia of Russian Aircraft 1875-1995. London: Osprey, 1995. ISBN 1 85532 405 9.
  • Hardesty, Von. Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power, 1941-1945. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 1982. ISBN 1-56098-071-0.
  • Liss, Witold. Ilyushin Il-2 (Aircraft in Profile number 88). Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1968. No ISBN. Reprinted in 1971 and 1982.
  • Michulec, Robert. Ił-2 Ił-10. Monografie Lotnicze #22 (in Polish). Gdańsk: AJ-Press, 1999. ISBN 83-86208-33-3.
  • Ovčáčík, Michal and Karel Susa. Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik: Il-2 Type 3, Il-2 Type 3M,Il-2KR, UIl-2. Prague, Czech Republic: 4+ Publications, 2006. ISBN 80-87045-00-9.
  • Шавров, В.Б. История конструкций самолетов в СССР 1938-1950 гг. (3 изд.). (in Russisn) Moscow: Машиностроение, 1994. ISBN 5-217-00477-0. (Shavrov, V.B. Istoriia konstruktskii samoletov v SSSR, 1938-1950 gg. (3rd ed.). translation: History of Aircraft design in USSR: 1938-1950. Moscow: Mashinostroenie Publishing House, 1994. ISBN 5-217-00477-0.)
  • Shores, Christopher. Ground Attack Aircraft of World War II. London: Macdonald and Jane's, 1977. ISBN 0-35608-338-1.
  • Stapfer, Hans-Heiri. Il-2 Stormovik in Action (Aircraft number 155). Carrollton, TX: Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-89747-341-8.

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