Sunday, August 16, 2015

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

PHOTO # 6 Early military version of an Il'ya Muromets type V equipped with British Sunbeam engines. Note early sharp nose configuration on ship. Some of the officers of the EVK. [Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC]

PHOTO # 7 More than thirty examples of the type V were built, including a number of training versions, which utilized only two engines, either in a tractor or pusher configuration. This IM was equipped with Sunbeam engines. [Courtesy of Harry Woodman] In late 1914 a new variant of the Il'ya Muromets was produced. This was the type V. These aircraft were smaller in size and weighed less than the earlier type B . The type V were specifically designed for military use where as the type B were merely adapted for this purpose. These new Murometsy were faster and able to reach higher altitudes as well. A wedged shape nose was utilized on the first of these aircraft produced, but soon they were changed to a flat front polyhedral. Both of these nose designs were constructed of metal framing and a high impact glass which provided better visibility and safety than the earlier designs. The fuel tanks were moved to a safer placement under the center section of the top wing to prevent leaking onto the engines in case of puncture from shrapnel or bullets. The center section was now built as an open framework to allow access to the tanks which also provided an aperture for a machine gun placement for top cover. Machine gun positions were also installed at the doors and/or in the windows as well as a hatch on top of the fuselage aft of the wings on some of the Il'ya Muromets. The rudder arrangement remained basically the same as the earlier variants. The wings were narrower and the external wing rim was made of metal pipe instead of wood as with the earlier ships. As would be the case for all the Murometsy built during the war a variety of engines manufactured by different companies were utilized. This was necessitated by the limited supply of usable motors available.
PHOTO # 8 An Il'ya Muromets type G, with R-BVZ and Renault engines, shown with EVK flight personnel.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC]
PHOTO # 9 An Il'ya Muromets type G-3 with R-BVZ and Renault engines. Note top, side, and tail gun emplacements.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] The type G models which were designed as a more advanced military version began to appear at the front as early as 1915. There were only about 9 examples of the G-1 produced. The essential difference from the previous model, was the increase in the size of both the upper and the lower wings in particular its chord. Additional glazing was incorporated in the nose of some of the later G-1's in order to improve the visibility for the pilot as well as the crew. This first variant of the G series was designed to carry a greater usable load so that in addition to carrying more armament it flew typically with a six man crew. In 1916 the G-2 which was designed with a strengthened wing structure was produced. With the need for a greater defensive potential the innovation of the tail gun position was introduced in this model. To get to this location at the end of the fuselage a trolley was installed. It ran on a pair of angular rails to the rear through the fuselage. By pulling on the cross wire bracing the crew member pulled the trolley to the rear or forward to return to the cabin. With the addition of a tail gun the central large rudder was first removed, then later in subsequent models a small fixed fin was employed in front of the gunners position. The two enlarged rudders were moved further out on the larger stabilizer. One particular G-2 which was powered by four 160 h.p. Beardmore engines was capable of operating at a 5,200 meter (17,000 feet) altitude with a full load. It is interesting to note that G-2's as well as G-4's were later employed by the first civil airline in the USSR. They saw service in 1921 between the cities of Moscow, Orel, Kursk and Kharkov as well as between Sarapul and Sverdlovsk. There were only about eight examples of the G-2 produced. In 1916 the Il'ya Muromets underwent further modifications in order to meet the expanded offensive and defensive capabilities required. This resulted in approximately eight examples of the G-3 being produced. Aside from the bomb load capacity being increased, the defensive firepower was added to by providing a hatch in the fuselage floor for a machine gun so that the ship's field of fire would then include the area beneath the aeroplane. The cabin size was increased by extending it down the length of the fuselage. The tailplane area was increased to accommodate the larger space being utilized by the tail gun. This G model was reinforced and strengthened in a number of areas such as additional welded tubing which was utilized in its construction. All these features increased the overall weight. Once again in an attempt to provide better visibility the nose was fully glazed.
PHOTO # 10 An Il'ya Muromets type E, class #E-56 R-BVZ #243, with EVK personnel at Pskov in the summer of 1916.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC]
PHOTO # 11 Forward interior view of an Il'ya Muromets type E's cabin note the extensive glazing incorporated for better visibility.[Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] Between the years 1914 and 1917 over seventy Murometsy were manufactured in Petrograd. The manufacture of the aircraft was a complex process. There were constant design changes to meet the combat requirements at the front. In response to these virtually unopposed incursions over the line the Germans increased its presence of fighter aircraft, which were faster and better armed than ever. In order for the EVK to continue operations Igor Sikorsky and his team of engineers produced what would become the final variant of the Il'ya Muromets series. The type E were the largest and most advanced of all the Murometsy built. Aside from carrying as many as eight crew members, its armament and bomb load capabilities were increased. Some ships carried eight machine guns or automatic rifles. The first of the type E were not fitted with a tail gun but rather a platform that was lowered from the fuselage floor aft of the wings. From this position the gunner, lying on the platform, could fire toward the rear. The nose was fully glazed and the fuel tanks were enclosed in the fuselage. In the first version there appeared only one large rudder but with the return to a tail gun position in the second variant this was changed to two smaller rudders on the stabilizer.
PHOTO # 12 A railroad station, one of many which were successfully attacked by the EVK. Photograph appears with an altimeter/time overlay. For the most part a Potte type camera was used, it weighed in at 9 kg. (19.8 lbs.) not a small or light device but of minor consideration when used on the IM. [Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] The EVK had its own photographic section which would process and develop all the negatives as well as the prints. They would supply them to the regional command headquarters as well as to Stavka. The distribution and delivery of these important photographs was carried out by couriers, many who would drive motorcycles over the rough terrain at breakneck speeds in all kinds of weather. The large size and load carrying capability of the Il'ya Muromets provided the perfect platform for high altitude reconnaissance. Aside from carrying a larger and more sophisticated camera, the quantity of glass plate negatives far exceeded what any other observation craft could carry. In addition to all this the large enclosed cabin provided the crew with a singularly unique environment to work in, particularly in the cold Russian winters. A marvelous overlay system was developed which would display the altitude and the time that each photograph was taken, these were particularly helpful when it came to photographic interpretation.
The squadron also had its own meteorological section which obtained from various sources the current weather conditions along the vast eastern front as well as the rest of Europe. It was sophisticated enough to make weather predictions which were extremely critical for the long range flights which the IM's routinely flew. The science of meteorology was fairly well developed in Russia at the time and General Shidlovskiy was able to man his squadron with some of the more noted specialists of the day.
(SLIDE)PHOTO # 13 This impressive 400 kg. (882 lbs.) dummy bomb was tested in August 1915, the purpose was to test both the aerodynamic properties of such a large device and the handling capability of the IM loaded with this type of bomb. It was designed and built by Prof. Zhukovsky and his staff, as were many of the larger high explosive bombs used by the EVK. A hole 3 meters (9.8 ft.) wide was created by the impact of this test device. 240kg (530lbs.) bombs were the largest bombs used by the squadron. [Courtesy of Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC] The EVK systematically bombed enemy positions, specifically transportation, supply and communication facilities. Generally a mixture of high explosive, fragmentation and incendiary devices were utilized. High explosive bombs ranged in weight from 16 kg. (35 lbs.) to 160 kg. (353 lbs.) depending on the missions profile. Fragmentation bombs weighing from 16 kg. (35 lbs.) to 48 kg. (106 lbs.) and an incendiary type of 10 kg. (22 lbs.) was also employed. The evolution of the bomb sights used by the Squadron is an interesting story in itself, suffice to say that eventually a very sophisticated optical system which allowed for drift was employed with startling success. Finally, bomb racks of both electrical and mechanical variants were tested and used in the Murometsy over the four year period of the squadrons existence.
PHOTO # 14 The end result of an emergency landing at the squadrons Zegevol'd aerodrome, this occurred after massive battle damage was inflicted on both the ship and its crew, April 26th 1916.[Courtesy of NASM]
The combat record of the EVK was rather extraordinary, only one Il'ya Muromets was shot down and destroyed. Many times the ships would return with massive battle damage, on one occasion the entire wing section of one IM collapsed shortly after landing. In addition a number of airframes had to be written off after some rather bad landings. It is interesting to note that the shortages at the front were so acute that after a craft was no longer flyable it would be stripped of all of its fittings, cables, instruments and engines, only the wood frame would be left. As the war went on the presence of enemy fighter aircraft increased, so much so that ships would need to carry machine guns on all missions. In the early stages of the war the crew of the Il'ya Muromets would either take little or no armament with them. This was often done in order to lighten the load for other essentials such as fuel, oil or bombs. But after a few nasty confrontations with enemy scouts survival dictated that defensive weapons were a necessity. As the Germans began to discern a reoccurring flight path anti-aircraft batteries were set up in order to shoot down the slow moving giants. On more than one occasion anti-aircraft emplacements were aggressively assaulted, by their would be victims, with heavy bombardment and machine gun fire until they were silenced. The pugnacity of the Il'ya Muromets was well known and respected by the enemy. Although the ships flew at a relatively slow speed their high defensive profile as well as their ability to withstand massive battle damage made them a difficult opponent to successfully intercept. The most critical problem the squadron faced was the lack of adequate engines. After war had been declared the much valued German Argus engines became unavailable. The R-BVZ had to find suitable power plants from other sources which included France, Italy, America and Great Britain. The Salmson engines from France did not perform well on the Il'ya Muromets for a few reasons. The aerodynamic drag created by the use of four of these engines and their radiators was considerable. The radiators were also prone to failure from vibration. The fact that they did not deliver the full rated horse power was probably due to a combination of factors which included the type of propellers used as well as the quality of the fuel and oil. Therefore even with the higher horse power available the usable load and ceiling was greatly reduced. Since the Argus engines were no longer available from Germany and the French Salmsons had proved to be unsuitable for the high altitude and load carrying capacity expected of the Murometsy it became critical to find an acceptable power plant. At that time the Sunbeam engine from Britain was the only engine available with a power to weight ratio which would be usable. These engines proved their worth while serving in the British Royal Naval Air Service, where they had expert mechanics to work on them and factories relatively close for spare parts. The Russians unfortunately did not have the same resources available to them, especially at the front were the Il'ya Muromets operated. The logistical problems of getting replacement engines and parts to the front from the various ports and terminals was slow at best. The Sunbeam engines did not the eastern front.
Since the Argus engines were no longer available from Germany and the French Salmsons had proved to be unsuitable for the high altitude and load carrying capacity expected of the Murometsy it became critical to find an acceptable power plant. At that time the Sunbeam engine from Britain was the only engine available with a power to weight ratio which would be usable. These engines proved their worth while serving in the British Royal Naval Air Service, where they had expert mechanics to work on them and factories relatively close for spare parts. The Russians unfortunately did not have the same resources available to them, especially at the front were the Il'ya Muromets operated. The logistical problems of getting replacement engines and parts to the front from the various ports and terminals was slow at best. The Sunbeam engines did not perform well under the harsh conditions they were subjected to on the eastern front.
It was not until later on in the war when the advancement of engine design by the allies had caught up to the power requirements of the Murometsy, that any suitable engines were available other than Sunbeams or the Russian built R-BVZ-6. The Russo-Baltic firm produced a hybrid version of the Argus and Mercedes engine to help meet this critical shortage. The R-BVZ-6 engines were designed by a Russian engineer named Kiryev. Before the war he had worked in Germany at the Mercedes and Maybach plants. With this valuable experience, he brought back to Russia the knowledge necessary to design and manufacture large engines. These motors were built at the Riga branch of the R-BVZ until the advance of the German army in the fall of 1915 forced the evacuation of the facility. As a result only a limited number of the engines were initially available until production was resumed at the relocated plant. During the five year period that Igor Sikorsky and his team of engineers, mechanics and craftsman had been building and perfecting the design of the Il'ya Muromets no less than seventy aircraft had been built. Although Igor Sikorsky originally intended his giants for more peaceful purposes almost all of them were used by the Escadra vozdushnykh korabley or Squadron of Flying Ships during World War One. This unit, led by General Mikhail V. Shidlovskiy, chairman of the R-BVZ, constituted the world’s first long range strategic bomber and reconnaissance squadron. Its theater of operations covered vast expanses of the eastern front which included the Austro-Hungarian region of conflict in the south as well as the East Prussian front in the north. The heroics and gallantry of the members of the EVK was matched by the superlative performance of the unique aircraft they flew. The measured success of the Il'ya Muromets did not go unnoticed by Germany or the Allies. This fact is evident in the successive development and implementation of such aircraft throughout the war by all belligerents.
Photo # 15 An Il'ya Muromets type G with Renault engines. The personnel are members of the Red Air Fleet.[Courtesy of NASM] Of the Il'ya Muromets that survived the final stages of the war a few were pressed into service by the Bolsheviks as part of the fledgling Soviet Air Force. Together with former members of the EVK they saw some action during the Civil War. A majority of the airframes and engines had already become rather worn out by this time from their extensive use as well as their exposure to the elements. These factors, combined with the lack of experienced ground crews, led to the loss of at least one ship with its entire crew. Amazingly a few of the Murometsy still remained in use until 1921, relegated to civil transport.
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Carl J. Bobrow is a second generation American, descended from Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. Born on August 18th, 1952 in Brooklyn New York, which is coincidentally aviation day in Russia. He lives with his wife, Corinne, two year old son Alexander, two cats and Jake the wonder dog. Professionally a consulting audio engineer he is well known to some of the more prolific rock bands. He has been working with Dr. Von Hardesty, a curator at NASM, since 1984 in expanding the Russian aeronautics collection at the museum. This collaboration has included the co-editing of K.N. Finne's book Russkiye vozdushnyye bogatyri I.I. Sikorskogo [Russian air warriors of I.I. Sikorsky] which was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press in 1987 as Igor Sikorsky, the Russian Years. In December of 1988 he was invited, along with Von Hardesty and Sergei Sikorsky, V.P. of special projects at Sikorsky Aircraft/UTC, to present a paper and represent the United States at an international symposium on the history of aeronautics and astronautics sponsored by the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. They were privileged to visit the Central Military Archives in Moscow and while there obtained important information on early Russian aviation. The acquisition of this material has greatly expanded the scope of the research which has now become international in nature. Carl was a consultant for the Igor I. Sikorsky Centennial exhibition at NASM as well as the commemorative book The Aviation Careers of Igor Sikorsky. He presently has his hands full juggling three research projects and sometimes wishes he was an octopus. He is a member of The League of WW1 Aero Historians, American Helicopter Society, Cross and Cockade International, American Aviation Historical Society, The Russian Air Research Group of Air Britain, World War One Aeroplanes, The Society for the History of Technology and The Audio Engineering Society

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