Russian Planes of WW1
Russian air power in 1914
Development of planes in Western Europe was certainly not lost to some officers at the Tsar's court, neither some industrialists. So at the beginning of WW1 Russia aligned no less than 244 planes. Some were clearly obsolete, most had been exported or built under licence. Also there were 12 airships and 46 balloon in service with the Army. Comparatively with the Germans this was good (about 260 planes), but derisory compared to the immense scale of the continent-empire. On this total only 150 planes were immediately usable in first line, but only for 79-80 certified pilots. Also this industry lacked qualified workers and suffered a general backwardness in equipments and infrastructures in general. Below, left picture: Taran Aerial ramming attack by Pyotr Nesterov, against an early Albatros B.I. This kind of desperate tactic became a trademark of the spirit and aggressiveness of Russian aviators and even extended to tanks during WW2. This Austro-Hungarian Albatros became the world's first enemy aeroplane destroyed in flight, on 8 September 1914.
This sorry state would not evolved much until October 1917. That was not by lack of interest. Sikorsky in particular was a pioneer quite in advance in heavy duty planes, making its four engine Ilya Mourometz fly in 1913 already; (Later on, the Tsar would order 32 of these). So in theory, Russia was able to mount long range bombing raids over Germany at the very beginning, which were performed despite all odds by Childovski
. Despite some initial skepticism with the Nobility for these machines "only good enough to scare horse" from 1910 five military air service schools appeared in the largest cities, like Sevastopol and Moskow.
But the fact remains that Russian aviation was the world's second in size, after france, with 263 aeroplanes and 14 airships, but the aeroplanes in particular were mostly obsolete, being from 1911-1912 for most. Russian pilots flew with their personal weapons, the 7.63mm Mauser C96 preferred over the 7.62mm Nagant revolvers, and some carbines. Kazakov even tried hooks and dynamite. These planes performed reconnaissance and artillery fire coordination, and directed some ground attacks with steel flechettes, standard army grenades and later air-dropped bombs or petrol bombs. On 17 January 1915 The Ministry of War issued an order to arm aeroplanes with 7.62mm Madsen or 7.71mm Lewis light machine guns and the Russian Imperial naval aviation was officially created on March. The air service was transferred directly under command of the Stavka (General HQ) and by 1916, the black sea fleet saw its first two seaplane carriers, equipped with 14 M.9 seaplanes.
Russian aircraft manufacturers
Still, in 1914, Russian manufacturers were quite in touch with Western tech, from France, Germany, UK and USA. Officers were already familiarized with Douhet theories
, of the first bombings in Libya, of Glen Curtiss naval trials... However despite the list below, the bulk of the production was still imported from the west, first among these being French planes, Farman, Nieuport, Morane were built by Dux and RBVZ, while the British BE2c and FB19, Sopwith Strutter (125) were purchased, imported or even captured.
- Petrograd Russo-Balt RBVZ wagon factory
- VA Lebedev, SS Chtcheninine (Petrograd)
- Sliousarenko (Petrograd)
- Steglau (Petrograd)
- Slesarev (Petrograd)
- Lomatsch (Petrograd)
- Dux factory (Moskow)
- Bezobrasov-Ponikovine (Moskow)
- AA Anatra (Odessa and Simferopol)
- Slessarenko (Odessa)
- Lebedev (Penza, Taganrog)
- Sakov (Lipetsk)
- Polytechnik Institute of Kiev
- Terechtchenko (Kiev)
- Aviata (Kiev)
- Adamenko (Kiev)
- Sass/Lenzi (Kiev)
- MacKenzie-Kennedy (Kiev)
- Gnome-Rhône (Moskow)
- Singer/Sewig (Podolsk)
- National engine factory (Kherson)
- Llyine, Deka, Axai (other licence manufacturers)
Russian aviation in the Great War
Right: Alexander Kazakov
, the first Russian ace, started making a name for himself by using grappling hooks to off balance enemy planes. The Russian also inherited planes deemed dangerous and eliminated in the West like the SPADs A2 (57) and A4 (10), because of their observation post located right in front of the propeller; The Russian cocard which was applied had the same colors as France, UK, USA, therefore only the order of the concentric colors changed: White in the center, then blue and red. Therefore it was much easier for planes of both sides to distinguish friends from foes, central powers having crosses and their enemies, roundels whatever the colors and orders used. Also many Russian plans received skis in winter, replacing their wheeled train. One of the most prolific Russian plane became the Morane L, equipped with a 80 hp Gnome engine, 430 being turned by Dux and Lebedev. Morane-Saunier H
and Morane-Saunier G
were also used, parasol and mid-fuselage monoplanes, about 500 or more Farman F.30
(under licence) delivered, a more confidential Hackel 8
, Nieuport 12
, 16, Nieuport 21, or Rumpler C.1.
Other Russian aces included Vasili Yanchenko (16), Pavel Argeyev which also fought on the Western front (15), Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov (11), Grigory Eduardovich Suk, alias Grigory Suk (10 ), Ivan Loiko/Loyko (8), Donat Makijonek (8), Vladimir Strzhizhevsky (8), Yevgraph Kruten (7) which also served in the French Aéronautique Militaire, Alexander P. de Seversky (6), Konstantin Vakulovsky (6), Victor Fyodorov (5), and also at 5 victories, Juri Gilsher, Nikolay Kokorin, Ernst Leman, Ivan Alexandrovich Orlov, Alexander Pishvanov, Eduard Pulpe (served in the French Aéronautique Militaire), Mikhail Safonov and Viktor Utgof. Kazakov was educated in military schools and entered the army in 1908, served in the cavalry, and transferred to aviation in 1913. He flew with the 4th Corps Air Detachment in Poland on a Morane-Saulnier. When meeting enemy planes he try to launch explosives and grappling hooks but scored his first victory (spring 1915) by ramming his opponent. In September he was commander of the 19th Corps Air Detachment, then 1st Combat Air Group. Until he was wounded in action on 27 June 1917 he had scored eight victories, plus all those which preceded, on a Nieuport 11, then 17. With 20 victories, he resigned in January 1918 and joined the British Joint Military forces at Murmansk in June, and as a Major, commanded the Slavo-British air detachment at Benezniky. By March, still fighting the the Whites, and having recovered from wounds, he was very afflicted by the withdrawal of British forces by the summer of 1919. He flew and crashed to his death in August, apparently a suicide.
The Ilya Murometz was the first four-engine heavy bomber of the war, and an entire unit of these, headed by Chidlovski, became the world's first strategic bomber squadron.
The first Russian fighter
The fact a coherent unit used about 30 Murometz quad-bombers at the beginning of 1915, which rapidly gained fame and recoignition, also pushed officers to ask for a fighter for close protection. The RBVZ would create based on these specifications, the Sikorski S.16
, first Russian fighter of the war, designed by Igor Sikorsky
. More precise specs were ordered specifically by Chidlovski
, commander of the Murometz bomber unit. The S.16 was somewhat inspired by Farman, but had a rotative Le Rhône engine (and later Kalep), a synchronized Lewis MG on the left side of the engine hood. Both planes were of the same size. They first flew in February 1915. A small serie of 18 were deployed in 1916, but they were hopelessely outclassed by German fighters and of dubious use.
Other proper Russian planes
Russo-Baltic works or RBVZ would also produced other models, namely the Sikorski S-5, Sikorski S-7, Sikorski S-9, Sikorski S-10 (1913), Sikorski S-11, Sikorski S-12, Sikorski S-16 (1915), and S-20 (1916), Russky Vityaz (The Grand) (1913), and the famous bomber series named Il'ya Muromets. Other notable aircrafts of this era included the Lebed X, a 1916, 80 hp, 135 kph fighter, the Lebed/Deperdioussen-sport
licence-built 1916 monoplane (63 built), the parasol Moska B-bis
(50 built) with foldable wings, the prototype Lebed-grand or Lebed XIV
bi-plane, bi-engines heavy fighter of 1917, the Grigoriev N°7
, Proskhovchtchikov "Bi-kok" N°2
, an experimental 2-seats pusher, Odessa's Olkhovskii "torpedo"
parasol fighter, also abandoned as being underpowered, or the very innovative Kassyanenko N°5
, a biplane pusher with its propeller at the tail, and engine behind the cockpit and airframe, which allowed an excellent visiblity. The prototype was lost in trials in july 1917. The most prolific and best floatplane was the Grigorovitch M.11
and its 1917 successor the M.12, or obscure prototypes like the Slousarenko "monocok" or Modrakh plane
and the Villich VL-6
Anatra Anasal DS in the Prague National Technical Museum air Museum
1917 Revolution and aftermath
However the Russian air service was reformed with the 1917 February revolution, but in October it was dissolved completely, with a "which hunt" against officers in various HQs and pilots, that were often former cavalrymen and therefore from aristocratic families. A completely new core was created, the Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet, composed with about 1.300 planes in various conditions, many obsolete. Two-third were foreign-made, Nieuport, Voisin and Farman models demonating the charts. But of this lot, only 300-350 were operated, the other being grounded because of the lack of spare parts and cannibalized, and poor maintenance because of inexperienced crews. Meanwhile, Kolchak's white army received 65 aeroplanes and about 70 pilots, often trained in the West and well equipped and maintained, at least at the beginning. Denikin's army was the second "white" air force in Russia at that time in 1919. Russian white pilots also intervened in the North Russia Intervention. 219 pilots also fought in the Red Army during the civila war and the order of the red banner, newly created was awarded to 16 aces.
Herbert Leonard, Russian and Soviet fighters 1915-1950
Imperial Russian Air Service
Imperial Air Power Russia
Sikorsky Ilya Murometz