Dive back into Blood Red Skies with a brief look at the Soviet Air Force – defend the Motherland from the hated fascists!
Unlike their illustrious counterparts in the west, the Soviet air force had rather humbler beginnings, transforming from the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Air Fleet in 1918 to the Military Air Forces (VVS) in the early 1920s. Spearheaded by the charismatic and energetic General Alksnis, Russian domestic aircraft production exploded during the interwar period, producing innovative fighters in the form of the I-15 and I-16, and dependable workhorse bombers like the Tupolev SB and DB-3.
Many of these early aircraft designs would be put to the test during the Spanish Civil War, where Soviet and Spanish pilots went toe-to-toe with the Condor Legion, to some initial success. Unfortunately, Stalin’s refusal to commit Soviet aircraft in sufficient numbers ceded control of the skies to the Nationalists, which would be secured by the arrival of predatory Bf 109s.
With the Spanish ulcer pulsing away in the west, and escalating conflict with Finland in the east, Stalin decided to improve the reliability of his officer corps by purging it, consigning many promising officers to the gulag, or a shallow grave. The nascent Soviet air force suffered greatly during the purges, losing three-quarters of their senior officers to Stalin’s secret police.
The results of this brutal cull would become clear during the firestorm of Operation Barbarossa, where the Soviet air force found itself completely unprepared for the Luftwaffe, losing pilots (and valuable aircraft) in droves.
With domestic production struggling to keep up with the casualty rates while migrating beyond the Ural mountains (out of range of German bombers), the Soviet Union was forced to acquire aircraft from elsewhere as part of the Lend-Lease program. A wide variety of western aircraft, including the doughty Hurricane and P-39 Airacobra would see service in the east.
Later in the war, Soviet factories churned out swarms of cutting-edge aircraft like the LaGG-3, Yak-9 and IL-2 Sturmovik, steadily grinding the Luftwaffe into the dirt while the Red Army’s tanks charged towards Berlin.
One unique quirk of the Soviet Union’s struggle against annihilation was that all citizens were called to serve, regardless of gender. Many female pilots achieved ace status during the campaigns in the east, some even becoming Heroes of the Soviet Union!
- IL-2 Sturmovik
- Lidya Litvak