Soviet use of Hurricane and Spitfire

Discussion in 'Old Threads' started by Nightwitch, Mar 3, 2009.

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  1. Nightwitch

    Nightwitch Member

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    Hey Michael -

    To my understanding, the Soviets generally disliked the Hurricane's performance. Its turn rate wasn't anything to write home about, its speed was less than the German fighters of the day, its armament was lacking in their view, and they just never hit it off with the airplane. They much preferred both the P-40 and the P-39, though again, the P-40 wasn't that well-liked either.

    I think the simple answer to the question of the Hurricane vis-a-vis the P-39 is that the P-39 was a better aircraft. It was faster, it had a better rate of climb, it had a more powerful armament (especially the later models with the 37mm which the Soviets loved), and it turned very well also. The Hurricane could operate at heights far above what the P-39 could do, thanks to its blower, but the Russian front had much lower altitudes, so it didn't matter so much.

    To address the P-39 more specifically, I think it is a much-maligned aircraft that actually, when looking at the pilots' thoughts on the plane, wasn't nearly so bad as everyone believes. The quote that opens up George Mellinger's book on the Airacobra was from Chuck Yeager who said, "I had about 500 hours in the P-39, and thought it was about the best airplane I ever flew."

    Lt. Col Boyd "Buzz" Wagner said, "Comparatively speaking, in performance the P-39 is believed to be about ten percent better in every respect than the P-40, except in maneuverability, in which case the P-40 is slightly better."

    Taking this statement at face value, we can see why the Russians loved their Kobrushkas. They were replacing Hurricanes, Tomahawks, and Kittyhawks in the Murmansk theater of operations, and elsewhere they replaced undesirable or obsolescent planes like the LaGG-3 or the I-16 respectively. In comparison to the other aircraft available, the P-39 must have seemed quite good indeed. But it's not just a question of superiority over what else was out there. From what I've read, it seems that the P-39 was an excellent fighter aircraft below about 18,000 feet. Since most combat on the Russian front was below that altitude, the P-39 was probably a beautiful little dogfighter.

    As to the Spitfire, that is a much tougher nut to crack. All the British pilots seemed to love the Spitfire, from what I've read of them (which admittedly isn't as much as what I've read on Soviet stuff). The Soviets didn't like them at all. In fact, the units equipped with the Spitfire didn't do at all well on the frontlines, and were quickly withdrawn to the rearguard operations under the PVO.

    Contrary to what you said, the Spitfire didn't serve the Soviets well in the Kuban. The 821 IAP which operated over the Blue Line only flew the Spitfires for about 2 months, and during that time they didn't really accomplish anything with them. They had inherited their Spitfires from 57 GIAP on the North Caucasus front which, again, hadn't had any success with them.

    Mellinger, in his book on Soviet lend-lease aces attributes this in part to the strength of the German opposition and in part to Soviet lack of familiarity with the type. But I think this is a bit of a cop-out. The 9 GIAD fought against some of the best German opposition around, and they were still quite successful in their P-39s. Why wouldn't the Spitfires perform as well, especially in the hands of a Guards regiment?

    I think the Spitfire was simply unsuited to the Eastern front. One of the things the Russians hated about it was the narrow track landing gear which made it difficult to operate from the hastily constructed airstrips the Russians used. The Russians were probably running it on lower octane fuel than what was the standard for the British, and I think it probably didn't tolerate that very well. In addition, the altitude was far different from the Western front. I'm reminded of an anecdote from Clostermann's "The Big Show" in which he describes running from Fw-190s by climbing, and how he was just waiting until he could get to 16,000 feet so the supercharger would kick in and he could get away from them. If that's indicative of the Spitfire's performance envelope, then it gives you a pretty good idea of why it was unsuited to the Eastern front. Most combat took place at 15,000 feet or lower. I've seen a lot of Finnish and German accounts where the pilots cruised along at 3,000 meters - much lower than what you would expect for Northern Europe.

    So, was the relationship with the supplier the reason for the Soviet love of the P-39? Probably not. I think it might have been the other way around. The Soviets had and maintained a good relationship with Bell because they loved the fighter and wanted more of them. As I said in the other thread, I believe Bell did listen to the Soviet input for the design of the P-63, though I haven't seen any evidence that specific P-39 models were created with the Soviets in mind. Still, it does make for a fascinating subject. Probably the most hated American plane became a Hero of the Soviet Union while the darling of Great Britain was quietly shipped back to rearguard duty.
     
  2. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    The Airacobra might just be the best fighter in Soviet inventory until they've received the Jug (200 pieces) and Kingcobra.

    The 1st Soviet planes that could do better then P-39 were La-5FN and Yak-3 IMO. And that's 1944 when those two were deployed.
     
  3. MikeGazdik

    MikeGazdik Member

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    The P-39 is one of my pet favorites, so I love this post. But I also wonder if the Airacobra was liked so much because of the Russians' apparent desire for cowling mounted weapons? Most of thier fighters had only a few guns, and most were also cowling mounted also, yes? That in conjunction with its fine low altitude performance could make the P-39 the plane of choice because of thier familiarity with centrally mounted weapons.
     
  4. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    Nightwitch - I stand corrected on Spitfire performance in the Kazan region.

    I too share the view that the Airacobra was maligned. It certainly suffered from a lack to supercharger but I think the reason the Soviet pilots got results with it was the firepower in the nose and the willingness to get in really close.

    If you are a fan of YouTube - do a search on P-39 Airacobra. There's a 3-4 minute British newsreel from the time the RAF received their P-39's (they called them Caribou's). It's funny because they claim they LOVE the new plane -- and we all know how long that lasted.
     
  5. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    In the summer of 1941, the Soviets were still using the I-15 bipane vs. the Germans, the Hurricane was a hell of alot better than that.

    Remember that the Soviets complained about almost everything, the only solution was to keep sending more. The complained about the Grant tank {coffin for 7 brothers} etc etc.

    Considering that unlike the Americans who had equipment to spare, every British tank aircraft was one less to be used by British troops, the Soviets were damn lucky to get anything.

    Actually the Soviets mostly got British Avgas from Abadan, Persia. 8) {at least for the first couple years of the war.}

    It was easier to send American gas to the UK, and ship the British gas directly by rail from the refinery to the Soviets :)
     
  6. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Does his book say whether the Soviets were satisfied with the first batch of P-39D's? {The ones rejected in the UK}

    I know the P-39 later models were well liked, but perhaps the Soviets were able to use the D's down low, while using them at altitude in the UK was considered suicide....
     
  7. michaelmaltby

    michaelmaltby Well-Known Member

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    Freebird - I don't know the overall reaction to the P-39D's - they were the ones with a 20mm instead of a 37mm through the spinner. They - like everyone else - complained that the 37mm Olds cannon was prone to jamming. My guess is that the 20mm selected by the RAF would be more reliable - but wouldn't have quite the punch.
     
  8. Nightwitch

    Nightwitch Member

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    The Airacobra I, to use the British designation, or the P-400, to use the American designation, were the first Kobras to show up in the Soviet Union. They're the ones that were rejected in the UK. They quickly became highly prized in the Murmansk theater of operations and were much preferred over Hurricanes, Tomahawks, and Kittyhawks.
     
  9. Nightwitch

    Nightwitch Member

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    This is quite a lot of anti-Soviet propaganda. The Soviets never used the I-15 against the Germans. They used the I-153. There are reports of some models of the I-15bis still being in service, but it was hardly widespread. Besides, this gives an implication of Soviet ineptitude. That they desperately needed the Hurricane. What were the British using at Malta? Gladiators. What did they use to sink the Bismarck? The Swordfish. What did the British and the Italians fly against one another in Operation Compass? The Gladiator and the Fiat Cr.42. The Germans even used the Henschel 126 in the early part of the GPW. It's certainly a lower performance machine than an I-153.

    The fact is, the primary Soviet frontline fighter at the time was the I-16, and it was in the process of being replaced by the MiG-3 and the Yak-1 even before the war started. The I-16, performance-wise, is not all that different from a Hurricane. The main difference is the I-16's performance curve is all down at lower altitude while the Hurricane's is higher up. The top speed difference between the two is only about 16mph, but the Hurricane needs to get up to 21,000 feet to do that, the I-16 only needs to be at about 9,000. So, for Eastern front purposes, the I-16 might well have been the superior airplane. Just as fast at low altitude (maybe faster, I don't have the Hurricane performance curve), turns incredibly well, and has heavier-hitting guns. The idea that the Soviets desperately needed the Hurricane, when viewed in that fashion, is completely wrong.

    I think the real "need" for lend-lease from the Soviets came about not because the lend-lease equipment was better, but because it was a ready supply of weapons to replace heavy losses sustained at the beginning of the war while Soviet industry was still gearing up for full-scale production. So, the Hurricane helped cover some losses, but it wasn't a fantastic performer that did better in theater than any of the native designs. Quite a few Soviet pilots who were aces against the Germans in the I-16 ended up scoring only 1 or 2 kills in the Hurricane. And that's not to mention the MiG-3, LaGG-3, and Yak-1.

    Were the Soviets "damn lucky" to get the Hurricane? Maybe. They were certainly much luckier to get the P-400 and the P-39. Hell, the Kittyhawk was even better respected than the Hurricane.
     
  10. Vincenzo

    Vincenzo Active Member

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    the soviets deployed ~140 fighter regiment, ~50% of this with biplane but only ~20% with biplane alone (my elaboration of niehorster site data)
     
  11. freebird

    freebird Active Member

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    Umm, no it's just my opinion, based on what I know about the relationship between the allies. If you've read the Soviet accounts from the early '40's they certainly didn't consider us to be their "allies" in the same sense the UK US did. If the positions were reversed, do you think they would have been so generous to the British?

    No it doesn't give any implication of ineptitude, it does show that they were poorly equipped to fight the Germans.


    Yes, I would agree with that. I certainly didn't mean to give that impression that the Hurricane was some fantastic aircraft. It was what was available at the time, and it filled a need. :|
     
  12. JoeB

    JoeB Member

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    The Hurricane in general tends to be a 'sentimental favorite' of those who liked or like it, generally as a result of the Battle of Britain, especially as remembered from the British side. Air arms with no sentimentality about the Hurricane, not only the Soviets but the Finns, the Dutch in the Far East etc. tended to have a lower opinion of it; especially ca. 1941-42 v 1939-40. A/c tech was moving rapidly, and had passed the Hurricane by. Same goes for the Hurricane's combat record counting by actual enemy losses in the '41-42 period: generally poor, atrocious v the Japanese in 1941-42.

    It's no surprise the Soviets preferred the P-39, a later and better all around fighter plane than the Hurricane, except possibly in situations emphasizing high altitude operations, but that wasn't common for the Soviets.

    Among the reasons the Spitfire V was not considered successful by the Soviets was friendly fire incidents when mistaken for Bf109, and poor servicability and high landing accident rate at rough forward fields. And the Spit V wasn't a greatly superior plane to P-39/40 again if high altitude wasn't emphasized. These were the reasons some VVS, ie. tactical af, units handed in Spits for P-39's in the Kuban region, but it's actually pretty similar again to experience in the Far East. Flying in primitive conditions in northern Australia, Spit V's were less successful against Japanese fighters than P-40's, a plane unsentimentally considered about equal below 15k ft in that theater. Those operations did favor a superior high altitude plane like the Spit, but again poor servicability and high operational loss rate in rough conditions was a big drawback. Again the Soviet experience was not unique.

    The Spitfire IX was respected by the Soviets for its capabilities as high altitude interceptor, as v. German recon planes, so in that case the Spitfire's strengths were more the reason for its use in PVO, ie air defense, units than its weaknesses a reason not to use it in VVS units.

    The positive Soviet opinion of the P-39 does go back to the first ones delivered, ex RAF Airacobra I's. One benefit was a direct result of British dislike of the plane: they'd hardly been flown. Whereas, some other British transfers (Hurricanes and Tomahawks) had more wear on them. However the Soviets definitely preferred the 37mm to 20mm. When P-39D-2's (20mm) were used alongside P-39K's (37mm) both delivered through Abadan, more senior pilots were assigned the preferred 37mm a/c. By then, apparently, the cartridge case ejection chute jamming problem had been addressed, since that complaint seems virtually non-existent in Soviet accounts of the P-39.

    Joe
     
  13. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    Don't want to be picky, but...
    Wasn't it the other way around? Russkies did have a lot of hardware, most of it being comparable or better then German have had. It was idiotic strategy that put 10 000* planes (and other stuff) at silver plate for Germans. Russkies have lost 75% of their military hardware in 1941, so anything they could get was seen a blessing.

    *out of some 15 thousands in the inventory.
     
  14. Colin1

    Colin1 Active Member

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    Really, in what way?

    What hardware are we talking about here?

    Idiot strategy = ineptitude?
     
  15. tomo pauk

    tomo pauk Creator of Interesting Threads

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    .
     
  16. KrazyKraut

    KrazyKraut Banned

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    I read a story once about I think USAAF pilots deliberatly sabotaging their own P-39s to be re-equipped with P-40s, that's how much they thought of them. I'll try to dig it up.

    Opinions differ.
     
  17. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    I'd like to see that one but straight out I think its BS.
     
  18. Nightwitch

    Nightwitch Member

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    Yeah, I read that US pilots actually considered the P-39 better in most respects than the P-40. The only thing it didn't do as well (other than the P-40 having a very slight turn edge) was dive.
     
  19. KrazyKraut

    KrazyKraut Banned

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    Could very well be, it was on this forum:lol: .
     
  20. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Now I'd really like to see that!
     
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