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In warfare, ramming is a technique that was used in air, sea and land combat. The term originated from battering ram, a siege weapon used to bring down fortifications by hitting it with the force of the ram's momentum. Thus, in warfare ramming refers to hitting a target by running oneself into the target.

Today, hand-held battering rams are one tool among many used by law enforcement and military personnel for door breaching. Forcible entry by criminals has been implemented using such methods as vehicles rammed into buildings.


Already in 750 BCE, the main striking force of the Assyrian army was the corps of horse-drawn, two-wheeled chariots. Their mission was to smash their way through the ranks of enemy infantry. As siege weapons they used battering rams. The Chinese had been using the ram for warships since the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC), as recorded in the Yue Jue Shu (Lost Records of the State of Yue), compiled and edited in 52 AD by Yuan Kang during the Han Dynasty. The ancient Greeks used their trireme vessels for ramming as well.

Air warfare

Ramming in air combat is a last-ditch tactic that was used when all else had failed. The ramming pilot could use his entire aircraft as a ram or he could try to destroy the enemy's controls using the propeller or wing to chop into the enemy's tail or wing. Ramming took place when a pilot ran out of ammunition yet was still eager to destroy an enemy, or when his plane had already been damaged beyond saving. Most ramming occurred when the attacker's aircraft was economically, strategically or tactically less valuable than the enemy's, such as by pilots flying obsolescent aircraft against superior ones or by single-engine aircraft against multiple-engine bombers. Defenders rammed more often than invaders.

A ramming attack was not considered suicidal in the same manner as kamikaze attacks - the ramming pilot stands a chance of surviving, though it was very risky. Sometimes the ramming aircraft itself could survive to make a controlled landing, though most were lost due to combat damage or the pilot bailing out. Ramming was used in air warfare in the first half of the 20th century, in both World Wars and in the interwar period. In the jet age, as air combat speeds increased, instances of ramming became rare. It was too risky.


Three types of ramming attacks were made:
  • Using the propeller to go in from behind and chop off the controls in the tail of the enemy aircraft. This was the most difficult to perform, but it had the best chance of survival.
  • Using the wing to cut off the wing or tail of the enemy aircraft. Some Soviet aircraft like the Polikarpov I-16 had wings strengthened for this purpose.
  • Direct ramming was the easiest to perform, but also the most dangerous.

Early science fiction

Presaging the 20th century air warfare ramming actions, Jules Verne imagined an apparent aerial attack made by a heavy flying machine with a prominent ram prow against a nearly defenseless lighter-than-air craft in his science fiction work Robur the Conqueror, published in 1886. H. G. Wells, writing in 1899 in his novel The Sleeper Awakes, has his main character, Graham, ram one of the enemy's aeroplanes with his flying apparatus, causing it to fall out of the sky. A second enemy machine ceases its attack, afraid of being rammed in turn.

World War I

Ramming attack performed by Pyotr Nesterov

The first known instance of ramming in air warfare was made over Zhovkvamarker by the Russianmarker pilot, Pyotr Nesterov on 8 September 1914, against an Austrianmarker plane. That incident was fatal to both parties.

Spanish Civil War

Ramming ( ) was used in the Spanish Civil War. On the night of November 27-28, 1937 Soviet pilot Evgeny Stepanov flying a Polikarpov I-15 shot down one SM.81 bomber near Barcelona and emptied the rest of his bullets into another. The second SM.81 continued to fly, so Stepanov resorted to using the left leg of his Chaika s undercarriage to ram the bomber, downing the plane.

World War II


The first taran attack in World War II was carried out by the Polish pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Leopold Pamuła with his damaged PZL P.11c on 1 September 1939, over Łomianki near Warsawmarker. (Taran is the Polish word for battering ram that was adopted as a name of ramming attack; the same word is used in the Ukrainian, Russian, and Bulgarian languages.)

Soviet WW2 poster saying "The ram attack is the weapon of heroes."
A fighter's propeller is destroying the larger enemy's tail

Soviet Union

In World War II, ramming became a legendary technique of VVS pilots against the Luftwaffe, especially in the early days of the hostilities in the war's Eastern Front. In the first year of the war, most available Soviet machines were considerably inferior to the German ones and the taran was sometimes perceived as the only way to guarantee the destruction of the enemy. Trading an outdated fighter for a technologically advanced bomber was considered economically sound. In some cases, pilots who were heavily wounded or in damaged aircraft decided to perform a suicidal taran attack against air, ground or naval targets. In this instance, taran becomes more like an unpremeditated kamikaze attack (see Nikolai Gastello).

Nine rammings took place on the very first day of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, one within the first hour. At 0425 hours on 22 June 1941, Lieutenant I. I. Ivanov drove his Polikarpov I-16 into the tail of an invading Heinkel He 111. Ivanov didn't survive but was posthumously awarded the gold star, Hero of the Soviet Union.The Soviets eventually developed tactics that gave attacking pilots at least a small chance of survival, including targeting an enemy plane's tail, rudder, and other horizontal control surfaces with their own plane's propeller. A few planes were even equipped with special steel propellers for such attacks. Lieutenant Boris Kobzan survived a record four ramming attacks in the war. Alexander Khlobystov made three. Seventeen other Soviet pilots were credited with two successful ramming attacks. About 200 taran attacks were made by Soviets between the beginning of Operation Barbarossa and the middle of 1943, when enough modern aircraft had been produced to make the tactic obsolete (even if Soviet fighter pilots were still trained to perform it). However, Evgeny Stepanov stated in an interview that more than 580 taran attacks were made by VVS pilots in WWII.

United Kingdom

On 18 August 1940, RAFVR Sergeant Bruce Hancock of No.6 SFTS from RAF Windrushmarker used his Avro Anson aircraft to ram a Heinkel He.111P; there were no survivors.

On 15 September 1940, Flight Sergeant Ray Holmes of No. 504 Squadron RAF used his Hawker Hurricane to destroy a Dornier Do-17 bomber over London by ramming but at the loss of his own aircraft (and almost his own life) in one of the defining moments of the Battle of Britain. Holmes, making a head-on attack, found his guns inoperative. He flew his plane into the top-side of the German bomber, cutting off the rear tail section with his wing and causing the bomber to dive out of control. The German crew were killed in the crash, while the injured Holmes bailed out of his plane and survived. As the R.A.F. did not practice ramming as an air combat tactic, this was considered an impromptu manoeuvre, and an act of selfless courage.


On November 2, 1940, Greek Air Force pilot Marinos Mitralexis shot down one Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bomber, then, out of ammunition, brought another down by smashing its rudder with the propeller of his PZL P.24 fighter. Both aircraft were forced into emergency landings, and Mitralexis used the threat of his pistol to take the four-man bomber crew prisoner. Mitralexis was promoted in rank and awarded medals.

Kingdom of Yugoslavia

On 6 April 1941, the first day of Invasion of Yugoslavia 36th group of the 5th fighter regiment of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force, equipped with obsolete Hawker Fury biplanes scrambled to defend their airfield, Režanovačka Kosa, from a strafing attack by aprox. 30 Bf-109 and Bf-110s. In the ensuing uneven dogfight at least three Yugoslav pilots: Captain Konstantin Jermakov, Captain Vojislav Popović and Lieutenant Milorad Tanasić rammed a German fighter each with fatal results on both sides.


The Japanese also practiced ramming, both by individual initiative and by policy. Individual initiative was involved in the bringing down of a lone B-17 Flying Fortress The Flying Swede on 8 May 1942 by a Nakajima Ki-43 fighter plane. After three of the Japanese fighters had each made two attack passes without decisive results, the bomber's pilot, Major Robert N. Keatts, made for the shelter of a nearby rain squall. Loath to let the bomber escape, Sgt. Tadao Oda executed a head-on ramming attack, known as . Both aircraft were destroyed with no survivors. Sergeant Oda was posthumously promoted to lieutenant for his sacrifice.

Starting in August 1944, several Japanese pilots flying Kawasaki Ki-45 and other fighters engaging B-29 Superfortresses found that ramming the very heavy bomber was a practical tactic. From that experience, in November 1944 a "Special Attack Unit" was formed using Kawasaki Ki-61s that had been stripped of most of their weapons and armor so as to quickly achieve high altitude. Three successful, surviving ramming pilots were the first recipients of the Bukosho, Japan's equivalent to the Victoria Cross or Medal of Honor, an award which had been inaugurated on 7 December 1944 as an Imperial Edict by Emperor Hirohito. Membership in the Special Attack Unit was seen as a final assignment; the pilots were expected to perform ramming attacks until death or serious injury stopped their service.

The Japanese practice of kamikaze may also be viewed as a form of ramming, although the primary mode of destruction was not physical impact force, but rather the explosives carried. Kamikaze was used exclusively against Allied ship targets.


Two rammings ( ) were performed by Bulgarianmarker fighter pilots defending Sofiamarker against Allied bombers in 1943 and 1944. The first one to do so was poruchik (Senior Lieutenant, posthumously elevated to Captain) Dimitar Spisarevsky on 20 December 1943.


Late in World War II, the Sonderkommando Elbe used ramming to try and regain control of the air. Although some pilots succeeded in destroying bombers, Allied numbers were not significantly reduced.

United States

On May 10, 1945 over Okinawa, Marine Lieutenant Robert R. Klingman and three other pilots of VMF-312 climbed to intercept a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu ("Nick") twin-engined heavy fighter flying reconnaissance at , but the "Nick" began climbing higher. Two of the FG-1D Corsairs ceased their pursuit at , but Marine Captain Kenneth Reusser and his wingman Klingman continued to , expending most of their .50 caliber ammunition to lighten their aircraft. Reusser scored hits on the "Nick's" port engine, but ran out of ammunition, and was under fire from the Japanese rear gunner. Klingman lined up for a shot at a distance of when his guns jammed due to the extreme cold. He approached the "Nick" three times to damage it with his propeller, chopping away at his opponent's rudder, rear cockpit, and right stabilizer. The Toryu spun down to where its wings came off. Despite missing five inches (13 cm) from the ends of his propeller blades, running out of fuel and having an aircraft dented and punctured by debris and bullet holes, Klingman safely guided his Corsair to a dead-stick landing. He was awarded the Navy Cross.

Cold War

In the 1960 U-2 incident, Soviet pilot Igor Mentyukov was scrambled with orders to ram the intruding Lockheed U-2, using his unarmed Sukhoi Su-9 which had been modified for higher altitude flight. In 1996, Mentyukov claimed that contact with his aircraft's slipstream downed Gary Powers; however, Sergei Khrushchev asserted in 2000 that Mentyukov failed even to gain visual contact.

Vietnam War

During the Vietnam War, Vu Xuan Thieu, a North Vietnam pilot, is said to have rammed his Mig-21 into an American B-52, accounting for the second loss of a B-52 to an enemy interceptor (the first one was shot down by Pham Tuan). Thieu subsequently crashed, however, the reason for his crash is disputed. He might have been downed by the fireball of the destroyed B-52.


In 1981, a Soviet Su-15 fighter jet rammed an Iranian CL-44 reconnaissance plane which intruded USSRmarker airspace, resulting in the crash of both aircraft. There have been at least three other Soviet ramming attacks between the early 1970s and 1988.

See also kinetic projectile.

Ground warfare

(See Battering ram.)

Sea warfare

The ram was commonly used in antiquity, and was an important part of the armament of the galleys of Imperial Rome. Its first recorded use in modern times between major warships, however, was in the American Civil War, at the battle of Hampton Roadsmarker, when the armoured Confederate warship Virginia rammed the Union frigate , sinking her almost immediately.

Another significant success of the ram in wartime was at the battle of Lissa, between Italymarker and Austriamarker. The Italian ironclad Re d'Italia had been damaged aft by gunfire, and had no rudder. Lying helpless in the water, she was struck amidships by the Austrian Ferdinand Max, the flagship of the Austrian Commander-in-Chief Admiral Tegetthoff. The Austrian ship retreated unharmed as the Italian vessel rolled over and sank.

During the War of the Pacific, the Peruvian ironclad Huáscarmarker repeatedly rammed the Chilean corvette Esmeralda, sinking the wooden steam- and wind-powered ship.

During World War I, rammed and sunk German submarine . This was an incidental use of the ship's bow, however.

In World War II, naval ships often rammed other vessels, though this was often due to circumstances, as it could cause considerable damage to the attacking ship. The damage that lightly constructed destroyers took from the tactic led to it being officially discouraged by the Royal Navy from early 1943, after the was dry-docked for three months following sinking U-357 in December 1942 and was torpedoed and sunk following damaging her propellers during the ramming of U-444 in March 1943.

During anti-submarine action, ramming was an alternative if the destroyer was too close to the surfaced submarine for her main guns to fire into the water. The tactic was used by the famous British anti-submarine specialist, Captain Frederic John Walker from December 1941 to the end of the war.

Superannuated British destroyer was disguised as a German ship for the purpose of ramming the lock gates of the U-boat base at St. Nazairemarker on 28 March 1942. A large explosive time bomb charge in the bow of the ship exploded the next day, putting the dock out of commission for five years.

PT-109 was rammed and crushed by a Japanese destroyer, though the incident was at night and the PT-boat was idling to avoid detection, making it doubtful the destroyer's actions were intentional.

 rammed the German cruiser   in a famous act of desperation.

View from US destroyer Caron at the moment of ramming by Soviet light frigate (FFL 824) on February 12, 1988

In 1988, two US naval ships, destroyer and cruiser , were lightly rammed by Soviet Mirka II class light frigate (FFL 824) and Krivak I class frigate Bezzavetny (FFG 811) inside contested Soviet territorial waters in the Black Sea, near the port of Forosmarker. None of the ships involved suffered significant damage.

During the "Cod Wars" between Britain and Iceland, unarmed fishing trawlers found themselves opposed by Icelandic Coastguard vessels and converted trawlers. As well as Royal Navy coastguard vessels, Britain sent large, ocean-going tugs and lightships to protect them and there were numerous ramming incidents against both sides, sometimes with very serious consequences.



  • Hardesty, Von. Red Phoenix: The Rise of Soviet Air Power 1941-1945. Smithsonian, 1991. ISBN 0874745101
  • Sakaida, Henry. Japanese Army Air Force Aces 1937-45. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 1997. ISBN 1-85532-529-2
  • Sherrod, Robert. History of Marine Corps Aviation in World War II. Washington, D.C.: Combat Forces Press, 1952.
  • Takaki, Koji and Sakaida, Henry. B-29 Hunters of the JAAF. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2001. ISBN 1-84176-161-3
  • Tillman, Barrett. Corsair. United States Naval Institute, 1979. ISBN 1-55750-994-8

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