Sunday, August 16, 2015

Soviet Doctrine

I have described a world of complex military realities that Soviet thinkers confronted during the 1920s and 1930s. To be sure other military cultures and thinkers, including Giulio Douhet, William "Billy" Mitchell, J.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Liddell Hart, also contributed to intellectual ferment and "new thinking" during the same era. The Soviets were distinctive for the following reasons:

They maintained a consistent focus on the conduct of large-scale, ground-oriented operations.
They worried obsessively about linking separate aspects of their thought about the changing nature of operations to larger and smaller military realities.

They produced an entire school of thinkers, not just individuals laboring in isolation from one another and their military cultures.

They undertook a systematic historical study of operations since Napoleon's time to understand what had changed and why.

Soviet army theorists emerged from this quest with what they felt were fundamental keys to understanding change: The shifting content of military strategy, the evolving nature of operations themselves and the disaggregation of military structures. An important underlying assumption was that these developments owed much of their significance to the impact of changing technology over time.

The Soviets perceived that evolving military theory and practice had led to a situation in which the strategy of an entire nation at war had become a kind of intellectual and organizational continuum linking broad fighting front with large supporting rear. That is, strategy was what guided a nation in preparing for and waging contemporary and future war, while the conduct of operations was rapidly assuming sufficient identity to warrant attention in itself, albeit not in isolation from strategy and tactics. The conscious understanding was that strategy-more precisely, military strategy-had ballooned to encompass a host of activities, including higher-level planning and preparation, resource orchestration and priority and objective identification, all of which culminated in the direct application of military power for the state's goals.6 In short, strategy had come to mean something akin to what Colonel Arthur F. Lykke Jr. would later define as orchestrating and linking "ends, ways and means" to the attain national security objectives.7

This development, when coupled with the increasing complexity of operations, caused a gap to open between the traditional understanding of strategy and tactics. Some commentators filled this gap with the term "grand tactics" while others searched for analogous terms, including "applied strategy" and operatika (Russian circa 1907), to define what the more traditional understanding of strategy had once described as happening within theater.8 For a time, under military theorist Sigismund W. von Schlichting's influence, the Germans toyed with operativ, but they do not appear to have elaborated it with any degree of persistence and consistency.9 Under the influence of varied perspectives and preoccupations, other commentators saw no gap and therefore found little reason to worry about it, continuing to regard tactics and strategy as directly linked.

In contrast, by 1922 the Soviets were beginning to fill the "terminological gap" with something they called "operational art," and they would spend much of the 1920s and 1930s developing a more complete understanding of this concept and its implications.10 At first, it was a term Soviet army thinkers used to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics and to describe more precisely the discipline that governed the preparation for and conduct of operations. In 1926, a Soviet theorist and former Imperial Russian General Staff officer, Aleksandr A. Svechin, captured the essence of linkages among the new three-part understanding of military art when he wrote, "Tactics makes up the steps from which operational leaps are assembled. Strategy points out the path."11 Not surprisingly, a new department, Conduct of Operations, appeared alongside the conventional Departments of Strategy and Tactics at the Soviet Staff Academy.

The new understanding of the relationship among the three components of military art provided impulse for a second factor-steady focus on the evolving nature of operations, with implications for future war. In accordance with the foregoing discussion, the Soviets understood that the industrial revolution had changed the face of modern operations. They knew that operations now had to be consciously differentiated from battles, which were shorter in duration, more limited in scope and outcome and more episodic in nature. Moreover, World War I had driven home the realization that single operations in themselves rarely produced strategic decision. Decision now came as the result of a whole complex of successive, simultaneous and related operations. The Soviets also perceived that operations as diverse as those of World War I and their own civil war had much in common. This realization came primarily from an understanding that logistics and rail and road nets played a key role in determining the scale, scope and depth of modern military operations.12 During the mid-1920s, Soviet army Staff Chief Mikhail N. Tukhachevskiy ordered the faculty that taught the conduct of operations at the staff academy to incorporate logistics into their operational-level exercises. Some Russian commentators later asserted that consideration of support in tandem with operations actually gave birth to the concept of Soviet operational art.13

Soviet theorist Georgiy S. Isserson provided the necessary insight: That armies since the onset of World War I had witnessed a "disaggregation of forces." That is, between 1914 and the early 1930s, the steady march of technology had resulted in the structural evolution of armed forces whose organizations now reflected greater diversity and whose weaponry had become increasingly differentiated by range and combat effect. For continental-style armies, these forces bore only superficial resemblance to their past counterparts. In 1914, for example, despite differences in movement and combat technique, infantry and cavalry represented two aspects of a fairly homogeneous force moved by muscle on the battlefield and supported by similar kinds of artillery. The operational radius and combat effects of these forces were still relatively limited in depth and scope. However, by the 1930s, new structures and weapons had evolved to accompany the introduction of aircraft, armor and long-range artillery into battles and operations. What resulted was a more heterogeneous force, but more important, a force whose qualities and attri-butes required a new order of thought and preparation before they could be systematically applied to military ends.

Isserson saw that a primary purpose of operational art was to reaggregate the diverse effects and operational characteristics of these forces either simultaneously or sequentially across a much larger theater of combat operations.14

These and related impulses came together during the 1930s to produce the Soviet concept of deep operations. With the massive application of new technologies, the Soviets swept away the older geometries of point and line to settle on the advantages of extending a force vector in depth. The requirement was to mobilize a diverse combat array, including infantry, armor, airborne, long-range artillery and air power, then orchestrate this array's multiple effects through an operation both sequentially and simultaneously in three dimensions. The object in the offensive was to attack an enemy's defenses as near simultaneously as possible throughout their depth to effect a catastrophic disintegration of their entire defense system. The concept was to accomplish a penetration by blasting and crushing a path through the tactical zone; then insert a powerful mobile group for exploitation into the operational depths. For maximum decisive effect, the Soviets envisioned these operations as driven from the top down, starting at front (army group) and proceeding down through army and corps levels.15

Although the Soviets did not ignore other operational issues, the theory and practice of deep operations occupied center stage for Soviet operational art during the 1930s. Operational art required the practitioner to:

Identify strategic objectives within theater.
Visualize a theater in three dimensions.
Determine what sequence of military actions-preparation, organization, support, battles and command arrangements-would bring the attainment of those objectives.
After analyzing previous operations, and assuming massive injections of armor and airpower, the Soviets calculated that future operations might occupy up to 300 kilometers of frontage, extend to a depth of about 250 kilometers and have a duration of 30 to 45 days. Consequently, these operations would be closely tied to the attainment of objectives determined by larger strategic requirements, while overall success would rest on the ability to integrate logistics and tactics into the larger design.

Linkages between fighting front and large supporting rear were also clear. For various reasons, including a close reading of Carl von Clausewitz's work, the digestion of lessons from the home front in World War I and a growing sense that victory in future war would depend on the state's total resources, the Soviets gravitated to a view that future conflict would be systemic and protracted. During the 1930s, Joseph Stalin's policies of agricultural collectivization and massive industrialization amounted to a peacetime mobilization of Soviet society. A succession of five-year plans built infrastructure for future war and produced much of the military hardware required for deep operations. The transformation-even militarization-of Soviet society stood as grim testimony to linkages between strategic vision and operational-level capability.16

Stalin's potential German adversaries inherited a different military legacy and worked from a different philosophical base. After lightning victories over the French in 1870 and 1871, much of the rationale behind German military planning had been to devise initial operations of sufficient scope and speed that they would bring about the enemy's capitulation during a single brief campaign of annihilation. The assumption was that modern society had become too fragile to withstand the dislocations of extended military conflict. The World War I experience seemed to confirm earlier apprehensions: Protractedness had brought the "Hydra-headed" dangers of attrition, domestic exhaustion and political instability, even revolution.

As the German Reichswehr emerged from the Versailles-imposed 1920s' cocoon to become Hitler's Wehrmacht in the late 1930s, emphasis once again fell upon avoidance. From a near-intuitive grasp of the military potential resident in the same technologies the Soviets were developing, the Germans fashioned blitzkrieg, a stunning response to the challenges, including protractedness, inherent in positional warfare. The marriage of air power and armor with combat technique gave birth to a combined arms concept with immediate tactical application and important operational implications. Once again the siren-like calls of annihilation and rapid decision summoned the Germans to rocky military shores.17

In retrospect, the new German vision for "lightning war" had at least two major shortcomings, one of which was accepted as self-imposed. The first was that operators and planners failed to embed blitzkrieg in a coherent vision for the conduct of operations, something which might have come about if the Germans had bothered with developing their own legacy of operativ.18 Experience could overcome this problem. The second and more important shortcoming was that the Germans failed beyond the obvious and superficial to consider important systemic linkages between fighting front and supporting domestic rear. Nevertheless, Hitler found the new vision congenial with his own grasp of strategy, while the successes of 1939 to 1942 obscured the more profound difficulties of mobilizing the home front.19

In contrast, the Soviet vision possessed impressive coherence, but it is important to note that Moscow did not initially have all the answers. The very nature of Soviet military culture, coupled with the requirements of continental-style warfare, meant that the Soviets retained a very limited view of operational arts' air and naval components. The chief purpose of air power was to serve the ground operation, while the primary role of naval forces was to defend the coastline and to extend the geographical limits of conventional land-oriented theaters of military actions. In addition, other circumstances peculiar to the Soviet situation prevented the Soviet army from drawing timely benefit from an understanding of operational art. Thanks to a series of circumstances, including Stalin's officer corps' purge in 1937 and 1938, misinterpretation of lessons learned from the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939), the necessity to assimilate huge quantities of troops and new technology and Hitler's ability to effect surprise in 1941, the Soviets did poorly in World War II's opening stages on the Eastern Front.20 Not until 1943 did they emerge from the hard school of experience to return to a more perfect version of operational art-with devastating consequences for the Wehrmacht.

From Stalingrad to Berlin during 1943 to 1945, the Soviets perfected front and multi-front sequential and simultaneous operations. Stalin's marshals learned to command and control these operations in depth and breadth while coordinating air support with armored thrusts. From 1944 on, mobility and maneuver assumed increasing significance, in part because the Germans could no longer replace losses, and because lend-lease trucks enabled the Soviets to stretch the limits of logistic support. Doctrine and practice gradually evolved to emphasize the most complex of modern ground operations-the encirclement-which the Soviets successfully executed about 50 times on the Eastern Front. The Soviets decisively turned the tables on the Germans and, in so doing, demonstrated a mastery of the military art that compared favorably with earlier German successes.21

1. The developments of the 1920s are summarized in James J. Schneider, The Structure of Strategic Revolution: Total War and the Roots of the Soviet Warfare State (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994), chapters 5 and 6.
2. R.A. Savushkin, "K voprosu o zarozhdenii teorii posledovatel'nykh operatsiy" [Toward the Question of the Origin of the Theory of Successive Operations], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal [Military-Historical Journal] (May 1983), 79-81.
3. A superb analysis of the changing nature of strategy within a theater is Georgiy S. Isserson, Evolyutsiya operativnogo iskusstva [The Evolution of Operational Art], 2d ed. (Moscow: Gosvoyenizdat, 1937), 18-28.
4. Ibid., 34-37.
5. The acute perceptions of a contemporary appear in Freiherr Hugo F.P. von Freytag-Loringhoven, Deductions from the World War (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1918), 101-6.
6. The classic example of this trend was Aleksandr A. Svechin's textbook Strategiya [Strategy], 2d ed. (Moscow: Voyennyy Vestnik, 1927), which has been edited by Kent D. Lee and translated into English as Aleksandr A. Svechin, Strategy (Minneapolis, MN: East View Publications, 1992); the first chapter describes "strategy in a number of military disciplines."
7. Arthur F. Lykke Jr., "Toward an Understanding of Military Strategy," in COL Arthur F. Lykke Jr., editor, Military Strategy: Theory and Application (Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, 1989), 3-7.
8. A.A. Kersnovskiy, Filosofiya voyny [The Philosophy of War] (Belgrade: Izd. Tsarskogo Vestnika, 1939), 31.
9. See the commentary in Freiherr Hugo F.P. von Freytag-Loringhoven, Heerfuehrung im Weltkriege, 2 vols. (Berlin: E.S. Mittler, 1920-1921), I, iii, 41, 45 and 46; cf. John English, "The Operational Art: Developments in the Theories of War," in B.J.C. McKercher and Michael Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art: Developments in the Theories of War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), 13.
10. The origin of the term is categorically ascribed to Svechin by N. Varfolomeyev, an early student of operational art, in "Strategiya v akademicheskoy postanovke" [Strategy in an Academic Setting], Voyna i revolyutsiya [War and Revolution] (November 1928), 84n.
11. Svechin, Strategy, 269; see also, Jacob Kipp, "Two Views of Warsaw: The Russian Civil War and Soviet Operational Art," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 61-65.
12. The officer most frequently associated with the comparative analysis of operations was V.K. Triandafillov, whose ground-breaking Kharakter operatsiy sovremennykh armiy [The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies], 3d ed. (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1936), has been edited by Jacob W. Kipp and translated into English as The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies (Ilford, Essex, UK: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd, 1994); see especially part two.
13. Varfolomeyev, "Strategiya v akademicheskoy postanovke," 84-85.
14. This argument is clearly enunciated in Georgiy S. Isserson, "Osnovy glubokoy operatsii" [Fundamentals of the Deep Operation], as cited by Cynthia A. Roberts, "Planning for War: The Red Army and the Catastrophe of 1941," Europe-Asia Studies (December 1995), 1323n.
15. R.A. Savushkin, Razvitiye sovetskikh vooruzhyennykh sil i voyennogo iskusstva v mezhvoyennyy period (1921-1941 gg.) [The Development of the Soviet Armed Forces and Military Art during the Inter-War Period (1921 to 1941)] (Moscow: VPA, 1989), 90-100.
16. Schneider, The Structure of Strategic Revolution, 231-65.
17. A comprehensive and provocative account of these and other continuities in modern German military development is Jehuda L. Wallach's The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation: The Theories of Clausewitz and Schlieffen and Their Impact on the German Conduct of Two World Wars (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986), especially 229-81.
18. See the discussion, for example, in John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy (New York: Viking Press, 1982), 243.
19. The most recent critique of blitzkrieg in operational-strategic perspective is Karl-Heinz Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, 2d ed. (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1996), chapters 1 and 2; for the Soviet-German comparative perspective, see Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 221-238.
20. The attainments and difficulties of the pre-war era are summarized in Georgiy S. Isserson, "Razvitiye teorii sovetskogo operativnogo iskusstva v 30-ye gody" [The Development of the Theory of Soviet Operational Art during the 1930s], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal (March 1965), especially 54-59.
21. The most recent treatment of the Eastern Front in World War II is David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, When Titans Clashed (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995); the classic account of 1943 to 1945 in English remains John Erickson's The Road to Berlin (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983).
22. Christopher R. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1992), 185-94.
23. An eloquent summary with an emphasis on military geography is John Keegan, Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 325-33.
24. See the overview in James J. Schneider, "War Plan RAINBOW 5," Defense Analysis (December 1994), 289-92.
25. LTG L.D. Holder, "Educating and Training for Theater Warfare," in Clayton R. Newell and Michael D. Krause, editors, On Operational Art (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1994), 171-72.
26. Thomas W. Wolfe, Soviet Power and Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), 32-49 and 128-56.
27. The most recent account is Roger J. Spiller, "In the Shadow of the Dragon: Doctrine and the U.S. Army after Vietnam," typescript to be published in RUSI Journal (December 1997).
28. MAJ Paul H. Herbert, Deciding What Has to be Done: General William E. DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM 100-5 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1988), 25-36.
29. An engaging survey of doctrinal development between 1976 and 1982 is Richard Swain's "Filling the Void: The Operational Art and the U.S. Army," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 154-65.
30. For an indication of the renewed emphasis on operational art, see then Chief of the Soviet General Staff M.V. Zakharov's "O teorii glubokoy operatsii" [On the Theory of the Deep Operation], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal (October 1970), 10, 20; overall context is provided by David M. Glantz, "The Intellectual Dimension of Soviet (Russian) Operational Art," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 135-39.
31. English, "The Operational Art," 17-18.
32. For an overview, see John L. Romjue, From Active Defense to AirLand Battle: The Development of Army Doctrine 1973-1982 (Fort Monroe, VA: US Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1984), 66-73.
33. GEN William R. Richardson, "FM 100-5: The AirLand Battle in 1986," Military Review (March 1986), 4-11.
34. See, for example, COL William W. Mendel and LTC Floyd T. Banks Jr., Campaign Planning (Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, 1988), 5-15.
35. David A. Sawyer, "The Joint Doctrine Development System," Joint Force Quarterly (Winter 1996-97), 36-39.
36. See chapter 5, "Doctrine for a New Time," in John L. Romjue, American Army Doctrine for the Post-Cold War (Fort Monroe, VA: US Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1996).
37. On the legacy of Isserson, see Frederick Kagan, "Army Doctrine and Modern War: Notes Toward a New Edition of FM 100-5," Parameters (Spring 1997), 139-40.
38. See, for example, James K. Morningstar, "Technologies, Doctrine, and Organization for RMA," Joint Force Quarterly (Spring 1997), 37-43.

Bruce W. Menning is an instructor in the Strategy Division, Department of Joint and Multinational Operations, US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He received a B.A. from St. John's University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He is also a CGSC graduate. His previous positions include special assistant to the Deputy Commandant, CGSC; Secretary of the Army Fellow, Moscow; director, Soviet Army Studies Office, Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth; John F. Morrison Professor of Military History, Combat Studies Institute, CGSC; Associate Professor of History, Miami University, Ohio; and he is a retired US Army Reserve officer. He is the author of Bayonets Before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914.

Russian Naval Aviation WWI

The Russians were actually one of the pioneering nations as far as naval aviation was concerned. Their seaplane carriers operated with great effect in the Black Sea, successfully interdicting Turkish coastal shipping (which impacted on the operational effectiveness of the fleet as this was the main supply route for coal).

The Russians had two converted ships as 'aviation carriers'.

They were;

Imperator Alexander I class Aviation Cruiser (Baltic Sea)

Almaz class Aviation Cruiser ( Black Sea)

Descriptions of these ships are in Conways 1865-1905.

The Russians taking a pioneering role in naval aviation. In fact, it has been said their tactical use of the seaplane carriers in WW1 resembled the later carrier task forces of WW2.

There were at least seven seaplane carriers in use by the Imperial Russian Navy from 1915 to 1918. These were:

Orlitsa (1915)
Imperator Alexander I (1916)
Imperator Nikolai I (1916)
Regele Carol I (1917)
Rumyniya (1917)
Dakia (1917)
Imperator Trajan (1917)

Orlitsa served in the Baltic and the others in the Black Sea. All were converted merchant vessels. The Orlitsa originally carried French FBA (Type B or C) seaplanes but was equipped with Grigorovitch M9 seaplanes in 1916 as were (apparently) the other carriers.

The Beginnings of Air Power: Russia's Long Range Strategic Reconnaissance and Bomber Squadron 1914-1917 Part I

By Carl J. Bobrow
By 1909 it was becoming more and more apparent that in future wars the skies above the earth would no longer play a benign role. Since the early nineteenth century the use of the balloon by the military in many countries, for reconnaissance purposes, had gained a wider acceptance. In the first decade of the twentieth century this predominantly passive observation deck would give way to newer and more effective contrivances for reconnoitering, specifically the aeroplane and the dirigible. It is easy for us to say from hind sight that these inventions would play an important role in the way that future wars would be fought and how European society as a whole would respond to the "threat from the sky". It should be noted that there were influential individuals at that time who believed that neither invention could or would provide any significant military value. Just as there were obtuse detractors who initially suppressed the militaries involvement in aviation, there were brilliant visionaries who saw the realistic possibilities that these new invention would provide and forged ahead regardless.
It is quite curious that both the aeroplane and the dirigible came into being almost at the same time. Although the dirigible showed promise early on for commercial as well as military use, with its extended range and high load carrying capabilities, the airships inherent weaknesses eventually forced its use to be limited. Aside from the psychological impact, due in no small way to its formidable size, it would eventually prove to be ineffectual in war. We need to keep this fact in perspective for it was not to be realized by the belligerents until it was tested under war time conditions. In the rush to maintain a balance of power England, France, Russia and Italy found themselves in a lopsided race to keep up with Germany's ongoing development and utilization of what was popularly known as the Zeppelin. This in itself would help spur the development of military aviation throughout Europe.
The stunning psychosociological reaction which resulted after the historic flight by Louis Bleriot across the English Channel in 1909 reverberated in England for decades. Their island home, touted to be a fortress protected by the world’s most powerful Navy, was now vulnerable by air. The concern of the populace was not simply for their personal safety, for it now seemed their very way of life was in the balance. Via the daily tabloids they came to the realization that military compounds, ammunition depots, rail centers, communication centers and other strategic locations were now open to aerial bombardment. It was even suggested that the Germans could covertly launch a fleet of Zeppelins with enough soldiers to invade the English homeland. It is important to remember there were but a handful of individuals who truly understood the limited potential of the flying machines which existed at that time.
The significance of the channel crossing was not missed by the keen mind of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, who was in France at the time. Upon his return to Russia he instituted the development of the All Russian Aero Club. The purpose of the organization was not only to promote aeronautical activities but to inform and inspire the public on all things pertaining to flight. This was not unique to Russia, most of the European continent was enthralled by the sportsmanlike activities which were exhibited by the early fliers.
Though the military in general was led to aviation reluctantly, there were those members of the various military branches who immediately saw the vast potential of both the aeroplane and the dirigible. As the development of flying machines progressed their reliability and usable range increased. The use and the deployment of both the aeroplane and the dirigible expanded both commercially and militarily. Many of the fanciful notions held by both the public and the military of what these apparatuses could achieve were soon swept away by the grim realities of war.
It soon became apparent that aerial observation of ground activities would be crucial to the war effort. The development of the aeroplane underwent a rapid maturation, with aircraft for specialized use constantly evolving in order to fulfill the conditions required at the various theaters of conflict. The captive balloon which proved effective for the trench warfare type of struggle, which the First World War had become, was limited in its observation range and thus was useful only at the immediate front.
The need for long range reconnaissance for observing the rear staging areas was vital. On the western front such operations eventually were accomplished by the successful use of two seat observation planes which flew at high altitudes. As the war went on the use of the dirigible proved largely ineffective for daytime operations. Their intended use for long range reconnaissance as well as daylight bombing eventually was taken over by the aeroplane. At the onset of hostilities the aeroplane as a whole was still limited in operational range as well as usable payload. Only Russia and Italy entered the war with aircraft which could effectively provide the military with both long range reconnaissance and bombing capabilities.
The German high command had put their faith in the giant airships; once again a few visionaries realized that large multi-engined aeroplanes were to be the future. The Germans were well acquainted with the development of Russia's long range reconnaissance/bombers, probably more so than anyone else. It is interesting to note that one of their first attempts to fill this gap was a design based closely upon Sikorsky's Il'ya Muromets. How much of an influence the Murometsy had on both the decision to build the R-planes (an abbreviation of Riesenflugzeug, the giant German bombers) in Germany and their initial design parameters is open to speculation. The German military command was quite aware of the fledgling Murometsy squadrons, since their unopposed sorties into the German rear on the eastern front caused more than a mere annoyance. They must have realized that such an aeroplane would provide them with the long range strategic weapon that they desired. It seems reasonable to believe that these deep intrusions into their territory had some influence on their decision to build their Giants, particularly in view of their expeditious development and use. Only after a concerted effort to fill this military and technological void did the other warring nations develop their own large multi-engined aeroplanes for long range reconnaissance and bombing. How the Russians, whose industrial base was only in its infancy at the turn of the century, could produce a design that was effectively years ahead of any other nation is an interesting story.
PHOTO # 1 The world’s first multi-engined enclosed cabin aeroplane popularly known as the Grand. This aircraft first flew in the spring of 1913, until it was severely damaged in a freak accident while on the ground. This flying testbed launched Igor Sikorsky's long career in heavy aviation. [Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] By the age of twenty-four, Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky had already demonstrated his adept ability as an aircraft designer. Many of his designs were as innovative as they were successful. Some of these aircraft proved superior to both the foreign and domestic designs which were entered into the national military trials. Sikorsky's meteoric rise in these endeavors was due in part to his intuitive genius as well as his empirical approach to problem solving. In his long career no greater challenge would be faced than the design and construction of his multi-engined aeroplanes built in Russia.
PHOTO # 2 The second Il'ya Muromets built, a type B, this aircraft was given the name "Kievskiy" in honor of its achievements by Czar Nicholas the II. In this aircraft Igor Sikorsky and a crew of three made the epic 1,600 mile roundtrip flight from St. Petersburg to Kiev. Note the passenger on the observation platform in front of the nose. [Courtesy of NASM] After the successful construction of the world’s first and second multi-engined enclosed cabin aeroplane Igor Sikorsky decided to demonstrate that his large aircraft had a practical purpose. His plan called for a daring flight in his most recently redesigned Il'ya Muromets, R-BVZ No. 128. On June 30, 1914 Sikorsky, with a crew of three which consisted of two copilots, Lieutenant G.I. Lavrov of the Imperial Russian Navy, Captain K.F. Prussis of the Imperial Russian Army, and his trusted mechanic, V.S. Panasiuk, took off from Komendantsky Field near St. Petersburg for the 1,600 mile roundtrip flight to Kiev. The trek was intended to subject the aeroplane to varying operational conditions. Such a long distance flight would provide invaluable information for future design criteria and Sikorsky was well aware of this. Although he had successfully established world records for weight, altitude and duration in his previous multi-engined designs, he was quick to realize that these flights were not the same as the venture he was about to embark on. Manufacturing an aircraft that was to operate as a long range transport would require a design that could fly under various conditions. One practical way to recognize what these parameters would be was to conduct a lengthy cross country flight. Needless to say the publicity would benefit the company he worked for.
The Il'ya Muromets was provisioned with an ample supply of fuel as well as numerous spare parts to help ensure a successful flight. They had planned for only one stop near the city of Orsha for refueling. Aside from this one site there were no other airfields along the way, the only hope for an emergency landing would be one of the larger cultivated fields south of the great forests. The brilliant success of their round trip flight proved not only the viability of Igor Sikorsky's design but the possibility of long distance transport by aeroplane. The effect on the Russian aviation community was stunning, his designs would influence generations. Detailed news of the flight reached an astonished audience in the rest of Europe as well as the United States. Shortly after this epic flight an even more startling event unfolded which certainly obscured the news of Sikorsky's accomplishment; this was the assassination of Arch Duke Ferdinand and the subsequent outbreak of World War One.
PHOTO # 3 Igor Sikorsky standing seventh from left, below outboard engine of an Il'ya Muromets type B. This aircraft was delivered to the military and was equipped with Salmson engines. Photo taken during the winter of 1914-15.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] With the commencement of hostilities Mikhail V. Shidlovskiy, the Director of the Russo-Baltic Wagon Company (R-BVZ) which built the Il'ya Muromets, for which Sikorsky was the chief designer, quickly realized that he had the opportunity as well as the obligation to help the Russian war effort. Having very close ties with the Ministry of War he was able to persuade them to order a number of Il'ya Muromets aircraft. He suggested that a squadron utilizing the Il'ya Muromets be created. The idea was to fly and operate them much in the way that a naval fleet works. Shidlovskiy and others felt the Il'ya Muromets not only possessed the potential to operate as a long range reconnaissance aircraft but also as a bomber and rightly so. This concept was a bold one for the time, as well as a shrewd business deal since the order could only be filled by one firm, the R-BVZ. Since 1909 it was widely believed that the dirigible would succeed in these tasks. Although the Russians did have a few French built airships and a few domestic made dirigibles in their service they were quickly shown to be outmoded for this aspect of military duty by 1914. Although the Germans made extensive use of their Zeppelins, particularly in the early stages of the war, these were of a much better design than the type employed by the Russians or for that matter anyone else. With this fact in mind Shidlovskiy's proposal struck a chord. The acceptance of Shidlovskiy's suggestion by the Ministry of War and the approval of Czar Nicholas II, led to the creation of the first squadron of Murometsy and a contract to supply military versions of the Il'ya Muromets.
Initially the existing civilian models were procured for military use. As we shall see this would almost cause the demise of the whole program. With the rush to establish this new squadron the need for experienced pilots became paramount. Unfortunately at that time there were relatively few military pilots who had the notion or inclination to join such a squadron. They had neither the vision of how effective the Murometsy would be, or the necessary training to fly and control such huge aircraft. These pilots, who were familiar with small aeroplanes, mostly of foreign design, thought of themselves as the Calvary of the air. Although many of them knew and admired Igor Sikorsky this did not translate into a willingness to staff the squadron. Yet not all of the officers of the Imperial Russian Air Force (IRAF) viewed the formation of this squadron or the use of the Il'ya Muromets with such skepticism. These officers and pilots who did join would form the nucleus of what would eventually become the Squadron of Flying Ships (Escadra vozdushnykh korabley, or EVK). Initially, as stated, the squadron was equipped with the existing Murometsy, these aircraft were upgraded and modified in order to fulfill the operational parameters which were required by the military. Instead of sending these aircraft to the front by rail it was decided to allow them to be flown to their forward locations. Although the pilots who flew the ships were experienced flyers their lack of familiarity with this radically new design almost signaled the death knell for the future use of the Il'ya Muromets and the squadron as well. Since the pilots flying these aeroplanes were unable to achieve the standards of performance as required by the military it was decided to place all orders for the Il'ya Muromets on hold. Additionally the squadron was ordered to stand down, temporarily at least.
Shidlovskiy believed that the real problem was organizational, rather than the aircrafts inability to perform. He arose to defend his aircraft and ideas vehemently, stating that failure to make use of such an important weapon would be tantamount to a criminal act. With his influential contacts in the Ministry of War as well as other branches of the government M.V. Shidlovskiy was not only able to get these orders rescinded but went on to obtain an appointment as the squadron's new commander with the rank of Major General. Mikhail Shidlovskiy envisioned a squadron which would be self contained operationally and insular from the normal command structure. Being an ex-naval officer he was familiar with military regulations, procedure and conduct. Both his organizational skills and his familiarity with the Il'ya Muromets made him an excellent choice. It is interesting to note that Shidlovskiy saw no conflict with the fact that he should both head the EVK and also make money by supplying the IM's to the military. Such a feudalistic throwback could only exist in Russia at that time.
PHOTO # 4 A forward EVK aerodrome, note the large tent type hangers for the Murometsy, probably taken in early 1915.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] In December 1914 Shidlovskiy officially assumed command of the EVK but it was not until January 1915 that the General had things organized enough to send for Igor Sikorsky to join him at Yablonna, the EVK's forward aerodrome near Warsaw. One of their first duties was to ascertain why the IM's were not performing up to their normal operational parameters. They knew the Il'ya Muromets were more than capable of exceeding the military's flight requirements. Igor Sikorsky confirmed what General Shidlovskiy had suspected. The lack of proper training and organization for both the pilots and the ground crews had contributed to the poor performance. Sikorsky found the airframes were no longer in an airworthy state, also the engines were running far below their rated performance. Aside from these mechanical hindrances the lack of advanced flight training for the pilots operating the Il'ya Muromets, with its complex control system, had contributed to their initial failures. It did not take General Shidlovskiy long to sort out the control and command problems, nor did it take Igor Sikorsky much time to instruct the squadron in resolving the difficulties encountered in both flying and maintaining the Murometsy.
PHOTO # 5 A jubilant flight and ground crew after a very successful and important mission over enemy lines, early 1915.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] By February 1915 the EVK was commencing operations which included long range strategic reconnaissance and bombing missions. As a result of these first flights and their overwhelming successes the Stavka (the Supreme High Command of the Russian Military) withdrew the command of the EVK from the Field Inspector General of Aviation, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, and placed the squadron under direct supervision of Stavka. The amount of sorties flown increased significantly with the emphasis on reconnaissance, particularly for the rear staging areas. It is quite evident from these actions that the high command quickly realized the importance of the missions that the IM's were capable of carrying out. Commensurate to all this the original order for the Murometsy was increased as was the size of the squadron itself, so that by 1916 the squadron had substantially increased in size. At the EVK's zenith of activity no less than thirty Murometsy were available for combat sorties. A good many of the IM's which were built by the R-BVZ were employed as trainers. As the squadron developed, a central base of operations was established at Vinnitsa. From here regional squadrons were sent out to various field positions to operate over the vast Russian front. Training courses were held at Vinnitsa for both pilots, flight personnel, and the ground crews. Here under the tutelage of an experienced staff, comprised of both pilots and technical specialists, the next generation of the EVK was prepared to assume the rigors and responsibilities awaiting them at the front.