The Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik was a ground attack aircraft that was used the Soviet Union during World War II.


The Il-2 had a crew of one or two - most examples having a rear gunner in addition to the pilot - and a Mikulin AM-38 Engine that was capable of propelling the Shturmovik at speeds of up to 430 km/h. Production of the MiG-1 and MiG-3 was mainly curtailed due to the IL-2 having priority access to this engine. The Russians considered the type so important to the war effort that Stalin once sent a telegram to the managers of the construction plants, in which he described the Il-2 as being as important to the Army as air and bread.[1] The total weight of the Il-2 was around 4,500 kg and its total length was 11.6 meters. 

Furthermore, the Il-2 had a maximum range of around 600 kilometers with a service ceiling of 5,900 meters. Its armament consisted of two 20mm autocannons and two 7.62mm machine guns along with up to two bombs and eight rockets as the mission required it.[2]


The first variant of the Il-2 series was the Il-2M which was the first to add the muchly needed 12.7mm tail gunner to prevent the Shturmovik from becoming easy prey for oncoming German fighters. It also had slightly increased in caliber weapons. Following was the Il-2 Type 3 which had numerous minor changes to the airframe so that it was more aerodynamic and mechanical modifications made to the engine. The final variant (not counting the torpedo and training variants) was the Il-2 Type 3M which had two 37mm autocannons and up to thirty-two 82mm rockets.



In December 1937, Soviet military specialists voiced a need for a dedicated ground attack aircraft possessing potent offensive and defensive armament, citing experience gained from the Spanish Civil War, and recommending creation of such an aircraft for prototype development and construction for 1938. In February 1938, Sergei Ilyushin, Chief Designer of Plant no 39 and holder of an important post in the Chief Directorate of defence industry, proposed a similar idea in a letter to soviet leaders Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich - the head of the aircraft industry - and Loktionov - head of the VVS[N 1].

An Ilyushin Il-2

In his letter, Ilyushin stressed the need for an armoured attack - a 'flying tank' as he termed it. He submitted a specific project proposal, designated LT[N 2]AM-34FRN, and asked to be given the opportunity to design and build this aircraft, claiming that it could be ready for state acceptance trials as early as November 1938. Approval for construction of three (later two) prototypes of a single engine two seater attack aircraft, to be designed by Ilyushin, built at Plant 39, and to be powered by the AM-34FRN engine, was given on 5 May 1938. The first was to be submitted for trials in December 1938, the second following in March 1939, and the third - which was later cancelled - in May 1939, At this point the aircraft was redesignated Bsh[N 3], giving the aircraft the service designation of Bsh AM-34FRN - the design bureau applying its own designation of TsKB[N 4]-55, with documents relating to the aircraft carrying the code TsKB-55 AM-34FRN, due to the regular inclusion of the engine type in the designation of an aircraft.

Following the decision to phase out the AM-34FRN, which made it impossible to fullfil the stipulated schedule for the prototypes, Ilyushan opted to use the new AM-35 engine, rated at 1,350 hp for take off, 1,130 hp at sea level and 1,200 hp at 4,500m (14,700 ft), resulting in a revised specification which was accepted by Loktionov on 15 February 1939.[4]

Manufacture of two prototypes began on 16 February 1939. The first aircraft was completed by the beginning of July, but did not make it's first flight until 2 October, with V.K.Kokkinaki at the controls. Kokkinai also made the initial flight of the second prototype on 30 December. Factory testing was protracted due to difficulties regarding the functioning of the engine, as well as a series of experiments which were needed to ensure correct operation of the cooling systems.[5] The configuration selected consisted of a coolant radiator located in an oblique duct in the fuselage - with the glycol system supplanted by water cooling - and the oil radiator located in a separate armoured housing under the fuselage.[6]

Il-2s attacking a column of German tanks during the Battle of Kursk

Factory testing was completed on 26 March 1940, with the second prototype being transferred to the Air Force Research Institute for acceptance trials, which were carried out by N Kulikov (leading engineer), Maj A Dolgov (pilot) and Maj I D Sokolov (Test navigator) between 1 and 19 April. The test report submitted after the end of the tests, which led to the official adoption of the BSh-2 AM-35 designation, stated that the BSh-2 was quite easy to fly and that, as long as the main faults were eliminated, the aircraft could be used as an attack aircraft and short range bomber.[6]

Combat Service

The first unit to go into action with the Il-2 was the 4th ShAP commanded by Maj. S. Getman, who went into action close to the Berezina river and the town of Bobruisk, despite the limited experience of the pilots, and the reduced compliment of seventeen aircraft instead of the statutory complement of sixty-five.[7]

The Il-2 soon proved easy for even inexperienced pilots to master due to its easy handling, and was quickly declared a useful type because of its potent armament and ability to withstand small arms and small calibre anti aircraft fire. Early missions were normally flown by one or two flights of three aircraft each without the benefit of fighter protection, directed against tanks located in disembarkation areas, or formations on the march or on the battlefield.[7]

As official instructions stipulated that attacks should be carried out from different altitudes at intervals of 10 to 15 mins. It was also recommended that, in order to make the aircraft less noticeable, pilots should make use of cloud cover, plan their approach using the right direction relative to the position of the sun, and throttle back the engine during the dive towards the target.[7]


An outline of the Il-2's service

In order to reduce transit time to the target area, small groups of aircraft were stationed at airfield located between 15 km (9 miles) and 20 km (15 miles from the frontline, with air regiment commanders under orders to preserve a communication channel to the headquarters of army formations. Pilots would carefully study the combat area. noting reference points and noticeable features. In addition, attack units would enlist the assistance of a pathfinder aircraft, usually an SB bomber, which would seek out the target while flying at medium altitude. The standard pattern would consist of a lead aircraft or group of target designation aircraft, under the protection of two or three fighters, followed by a strike force of attack aircraft accompanied by a flight split into pairs, with one pair on the flank and the other acting as a rearguard.[7]

The Il-2 saw use with several other airforces, most of whom initially began operations as part of the VVS. While in use by the Soviet Air Force, the Il-2 was, due to its great success, prioritized as one of the most important Soviet aircraft. Production of some 40,000 in all made it the most produced aircraft of World War II.

A number of Il-2s were converted into dual control trainers for flight instruction duties. A small number of these duel control aircraft were passed to the Soviet navy, and adapted to carry torpedoes.[8]

The Il-2 began to be replaced in service by the Ilyushin Il-10 from February 1945.[9]


  1. Voyenno vozdooshnyye seely = Air Force.[3]
  2. Letayushciy tank = 'flying tank'.[3]
  3. bronttovannyi shturmovik = armoured attack aircraft.[3]
  4. Tsentral'noye Konstruktorskoye Biuro = Central Design Bureau.[3]


  1. Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. Ilyushin IL-2 and IL-10 Shturmovik. The Crowood Press (2004), Jacket notes
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. 2004. Page 23
  4. Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. 2004. Page 24
  5. Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. Page 26
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. Page 27
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. Page 68
  8. Aircraft of the World Card Collection. IMP Ltd. 1996-1998. Group 13 Card 14 (Other Aircraft of World War Two - Il-2/Il-10 Shturmovik)
  9. Gordon, Yefim and Komissarov, Sergey. Page 125
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