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Loss of Life in the Stalin Era

Alexander Yakovlev in a recent book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), put the number of deaths due to the Soviet system at 60 million. Yakovlev, who along with Mikhail Gorbachev was an architect of glasnost, called the Soviet tragedy a “democide.” Despite research done over the past decades by Russian and other scholars, there are no exact numbers for those who perished in the years 1928–1953. The following account of repression is taken from a variety of primary and secondary sources; it deals with only 10 major incidents of repression in the Stalinist period.


Collectivization and the Famine of 1933–1934. A figure of 7–10 million deaths is probably as accurate an estimate as can be provided. This includes the loss of 2–3 million peasants during collectivization, the death of approximately 500,000 Kazakh nomads, and the death by starvation of approximately 5 million Ukrainians.

The Yezhovshchina. The KGB provided the Communist Party Central Committee with information during the Nikita Khrushchev years that there had been approximately 1.5 million arrests and 650,000 executions in 1937–1938. This figure is almost certainly too low: the Memorial organization has established that there were more than 40,000 executions in Leningrad alone in that period, and no less than 20,000 people were shot at Butovo near Moscow in just 14 months. Moreover, the figure may not include thousands shot without trial or interrogation, or those murdered in provincial jails. In 1953–1956, the newly minted KGB had every reason to provide the leadership with a very low figure.

Incorporation of Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine. A noted Western historian, Jan Gros, places the loss of life in Poland between 750,000 and 1 million in his Revolution from Abroad (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988). This included those shot out of hand, those executed after a trial, and those who perished in Siberia. The large mass grave at Kuropaty in Byelorussia, where tens of thousands were shot in 1939–1940, suggests that the latter figure is closer to the truth.

Katyn. Information provided by Moscow to the Polish government in 1992 showed that Lavrenty Beria had suggested the execution of more than 25,000 Polish military officers and civilian notables. Joseph Stalin and other members of the ruling Politburo signed the order.

Incorporation of the Baltic States. While the loss of life in the Baltic was less than that in eastern Poland, it amounted to more than 5 percent of the population, with approximately 200,000 shot and deported. Combined with heavy losses in 1944–1950 as the Soviet authorities reestablished power, executions and deportations constituted a demographic catastrophe for the people of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Executions during the Great Patriotic War. There were approximately 140,000 executions of Soviet soldiers during the war. At Stalingrad 13,500 men were shot in the course of the campaign that lasted from August 1942 to February 1943. In contrast, there was one execution for desertion in the U.S. Army during World War II, and fewer than 10 executions in the British armed forces for mutiny and other military crimes during six years of war. During World War I, more than 350 British service personnel were shot for military crimes; this is seen today as a mark on the honor of the country and the military.

Death during Deportations, 1943–1945. The NKVD and NKGB deported 1.5–2 million Soviet citizens during the war. There are no real morbidity figures for these people. The Chechens and the Crimean Tatars in their accounts state that 20–30 percent of the deportees died on the way to Central Asia or perished during the first year. This would lead historians to the conclusion that 300,000 to 500,000 perished in the first year of captivity.

Death in Camps, 1930–1953. A recent study of the gulag system put the number of deaths in the camps during 1930–1953 at more than 2.7 million. The author concludes that this figure is almost certainly too low, because prisoners who were mortally ill were often released from penal servitude days before they passed away.

Famine of 1946–1948. There is only very sketchy information on this “unknown” famine. Recent Russian scholars have placed the death toll at 2 million. It is estimated that almost half the population, 100 million people, suffered from malnutrition after World War II. Thousands of peasants were arrested for stealing food for their families during the famine: MVD figures show 53,369 arrests in 1946 alone for theft of food. Most of those convicted were women pilfering food for their children. Almost three-quarters of those arrested went to forced labor camps. They were not reckoned as political prisoners, but they were victims of the system.

Political Arrests during Stalin’s Last Years. Approximately 350,000 captured Soviet military personnel received death or 25-year sentences after their repatriation from Germany. In the Ukraine and the Baltic states, prophylactic arrests of villagers continued until 1953, as the MGB sought to break the back of nationalist resistance. Arrests of intellectuals and dissident military officers continued as well, though not at the pace of the Yezhovshchina: between 1947 and 1953, there were 350,000 arrests for political offenses. The last mass execution of political prisoners was the shooting of Jewish intellectuals and factory workers following the trial of the Anti-Fascist Committee in late 1952.


These figures are “soft.” They do not include those killed in the prolonged partisan war in the Ukraine and the Baltic in 1945–1953 or the peripatetic civil war that existed in the Caucasus in 1925–1935 over collectivization. Nor does the figure include those who were murdered out of hand on Stalin’s and others’ personal orders. Alexander Yakovlev’s A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002) is the best short volume on the costs of the terror. It is not for the squeamish. The Memorial organization is creating a history of the martyrdom of the people, but despite extraordinary courage and persistence, it lacks complete records for the period. It now has lists for many mass graves and still continues to search for other execution grounds. Its website in Russian and English is the best place to follow developments in the history of the Soviet holocaust.


Demographers are now better able to comment on this bloody period in a different way. Their research, like Yakovlev’s study and Memorial’s research, shows that the countries that once composed the Soviet Union are still reeling from the terrible losses of the Stalin era. The Slavic countries, the Russian Federation, Byelorussia, and Ukraine, as well as three Baltic States have suffered a demographic catastrophe that will take decades from which to recover.

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About Soviet Hammer

The Soviet Period Military Experience. You will find a wide range of political and social views in these articles. This website does not support any 'isms or 'ists! It is solely for educational purposes.

"In America, you can always find a party. In Soviet Russia, the party can always find you!"

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The Soviet Period Military Experience.

The Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, seized power in November 1917. It immediately began peace negotiations with the Central Powers and took control of the armed forces. Once peace was concluded in March 1918 by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the demobilization of the old Russian imperial army began.


Adhering to Marxist doctrine, which viewed standing armies as tools of state and class oppression, the Bolsheviks did not plan to replace the imperial army and intended instead to rely on a citizens’ militia of class-conscious workers for defense. The emergence of widespread opposition to the Bolshevik seizure of power convinced Lenin of the need for a regular army after all, and he ordered Trotsky to create a Red Army, the birthday of which was recognized as February 23, 1918. As the number of workers willing to serve on a voluntary basis proved to be insufficient for the needs of the time, conscription of workers and peasants was soon introduced. By 1921 the Red Army had swelled to nearly five million men and women; the majority, however, were engaged full-time in food requisitioning and other economic activities designed to keep the army fed and equipped as Russia’s beleaguered economy began to collapse. Because they lacked trained leadership to fight the civil war that erupted in the spring of 1918, the Bolsheviks recruited and impressed former officers of the old army and assigned political commissars to validate their orders and maintain political reliability of the units.


The civil war raged until 1922, when the last elements of anticommunist resistance were wiped out in Siberia. In the meantime Poland attacked Soviet Russia in April 1920 in a bid to establish its borders deep in western Ukraine. The Soviet counteroffensive took the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw before it was repelled and pushed back into Ukraine in August. The Red Army forces combating the Poles virtually disintegrated during their retreat, and the Cossacks of the elite First Cavalry Army, led by Josef Stalin’s cronies Kliment Voroshilov and Semen Budenny, staged a bloody anti-Bolshevik mutiny and pogrom in the process. The subsequent peace treaty gave Poland very favorable boundaries eastward into Ukraine.


The onset of peace saw the demobilization of the regular armed forces to a mere half million men. Some party officials wanted to abolish the army totally and replace it with a citizens’ militia. As a compromise, a mixed system consisting of a small standing army and a large territorial militia was established. Regular soldiers would serve for two years, but territorial soldiers would serve for five, one weekend per month and several weeks in the summer. Until it was absorbed into the regular army beginning in 1936, the territorial army outnumbered the regular army by about three to one. For the rest of the decade the armed forces were underfunded, undersupplied, and ill-equipped with old, outdated weaponry.


During the 1920s most former tsarist officers were dismissed and a new cadre of Soviet officers began to form. Party membership was strongly encouraged among the officers, and throughout the Soviet period at least eighty percent of the officers were party members. At and above the rank of colonel virtually all officers held party membership.


A unique feature of the Soviet armed forces was the imposition on it of the Political Administration of the Red Army (PURKKA, later renamed GlavPUR). This was the Communist Party organization for which the military commissars worked. Initially every commander from battalion level on up to the Army High Command had a commissar as a partner. After the civil war, commanders no longer had to have their orders countersigned by the commissar to be valid, and commissars’ duties were relegated to discipline, morale, and political education. During the 1930s political officers were added at the company and platoon levels, and during the purges and at the outset of World War II commanders once again had to have commissars countersign their orders. Commissars shared responsibility for the success of the unit and were praised or punished alongside the commanders, but they answered to the political authorities, not to the military chain of command. Commissars were required to evaluate officers’ political reliability on their annual attestations and during promotion proceedings, thus giving them some leverage over the officers with whom they served.

THE 1930S

The First Five-Year Plan, from 1928 to1932, expanded the USSR’s industrial base, which then began producing modern equipment, including tanks, fighter aircraft and bombers, and new warships. The size of the armed forces rapidly increased to about 1.5 million between 1932 and 1937. The rapid expansion of the armed forces led to insurmountable difficulties in recruiting officers. As a stopgap measure, party members were required to serve as officers for two- or three-year stints, and privates and sergeants were promoted to officer rank. The training of officer candidates in military schools was abbreviated from four years to two or less to get more officers into newly created units. As a result the competence and cohesion of the leadership suffered.


In the 1930s Soviet strategists such as Vladimir K. Triandifilov and Mikhail Tukhachevsky devised innovative tactics for utilizing tanks and aircraft in offensive operations. The Soviets created the first large tank units, and experimented with paratroops and airborne tactics. During the Spanish Civil War (1936–39) Soviet officers and men advised the Republican forces and engaged in armored and air combat testing the USSR’s latest tanks and aircraft against the fascists.


The terror purge of the officer corps instituted by Josef Stalin in 1937–1939 took a heavy toll of the top leadership. Stalin’s motives for the purge will never be known for certain, but most plausibly he was concerned about a possible military coup. Although it is very unlikely that the military planned or hoped to seize power, three of its five marshals were executed, as were fifteen of sixteen army commanders of the first and second rank, sixty of sixty-seven corps commanders, and 136 of 199 division commanders. Forty-two of the top forty-six military commissars also were arrested and executed. When the process of denunciation, arrest, investigation, and rehabilitation had run its course in 1940, about 23,000 military and political officers had either been executed or were in prison camps. It was long believed that perhaps as many as fifty percent of the officer corps was purged, but archival evidence subsequently indicated that when the reinstatements of thousands of arrested officers during World War II are taken into account, fewer than ten percent of the officer corps was permanently purged, which does not diminish the loss of talented men. Simultaneous with the purge was the rapid expansion of the armed forces in response to the growth of militarism in Germany and Japan. By June 1941 the Soviet armed forces had grown to 4.5 million men, but were terribly short of officers because of difficulties in recruiting and the time needed for training. Tens of thousands of civilian party members, sergeants, and enlisted men were forced to serve as officers with little training for their responsibilities. Despite the USSR’s rapid industrialization, the army found itself underequipped because men were being conscripted faster than weapons, equipment, and even boots and uniforms could be made for them.


The end of the decade saw the Soviet Union involved in several armed conflicts. From May to September 1939, Soviet forces under General Georgy Zhukov battled the Japanese Kwantung Army and drove it out of Mongolia. In September 1939 the Soviet army and air force invaded eastern Poland after the German army had nearly finished conquering the western half. In November 1939 the Soviet armed forces attacked Finland but failed to conquer it and in the process suffered nearly 400,000 casualties. Stalin’s government was forced to accept a negotiated peace in March 1940 in which it gained some territory north of Leningrad and naval bases in the Gulf of Finland. Anticipating war with Nazi Germany, the USSR increased the pace of rearmament in the years 1939–1941, and prodigious numbers of modern tanks, artillery, and aircraft were delivered to the armed forces.



In violation of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact signed in 1939, Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941. Much of the forward-based Soviet air force was destroyed on the ground on the first day of the onslaught. All along the front the Axis forces rolled up the Soviet defenses, hoping to destroy the entire Red Army in the western regions before marching on Moscow and Leningrad. By December 1941 the Germans had put Leningrad under siege, came within sight of Moscow, and, in great battles of encirclement, had inflicted about 4.5 million casualties on the Soviet armed forces, yet they had been unable to destroy the army and the country’s will and ability to resist. Nearly 5.3 million Soviet citizens were mobilized for the armed forces in the first eight days of the war. They were used to create new formations or to fill existing units, which were reconstituted and rearmed and sent back into the fray. To rally the USSR, Stalin declared the struggle to be the Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, comparable to the war against Napoleon 130 years earlier.


At the outset of the war, Stalin appointed himself supreme commander and dominated Soviet military operations, ignoring the advice of his generals. Stalin’s disastrous decisions culminated in the debacle at Kiev in September 1941, in which 600,000 Soviet troops were lost because he refused to allow them to retreat. As a result, Stalin promoted Marshal Georgy Zhukov to second in command and from then on usually heeded the advice of his military commanders.


The Soviet Army once again lost ground during the summer of 1942, when a new German offensive completed the conquest of Ukraine and reached the Volga River at Stalingrad. In the fall of 1942 the Soviet Army began a counteroffensive, and by the end of February 1943 it had eliminated the German forces in Stalingrad and pushed the front several hundred miles back from the Volga. July 1943 saw the largest tank battle in history at Kursk, ending in a decisive German defeat. From then on the initiative passed to the Soviet side. The major campaign of 1944 was Operation Bagration, which liberated Belarus and carried the Red Army to the gates of Warsaw by July, in the process destroying German Army Group Center, a Soviet goal since January 1942. The final assault on Berlin began in April 1945 and culminated on May 3. The war in Europe ended that month, but a short campaign in China against Japan followed, beginning in August and ending in September 1945 with the Japanese surrender to the Allies.



After the war, the armed forces demobilized to their prewar strength of about four million and were assigned to the occupation of Eastern Europe. Conscription remained in force. During the late 1950s, under Nikita Khrushchev, who stressed nuclear rather than conventional military power, the army’s strength was cut to around three million. Leonid Brezhnev restored the size of the armed force to more than four million. During the Cold War, pride of place in the Soviet military shifted to the newly created Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF), which controlled the ground-based nuclear missile forces. In addition to the SRF, the air force had bomber-delivered nuclear weapons and the navy had missile-equipped submarines. The army, with the exception of the airborne forces, became an almost exclusively motorized and mechanized force.


The Soviet army’s last war was fought in Afghanistan from December 1979 to February 1989. Brought in to save the fledgling Afghan communist government, which had provoked a civil war through its use of coercion and class conflict to create a socialist state, the Soviet army expected to defeat the rebels in a short campaign and then withdraw. Instead, the conflict degenerated into a guerilla war against disparate Afghan tribes that had declared a holy war, or jihad, against the Soviet army, which was unable to bring its strength in armor, artillery, or nuclear weapons to bear. The Afghan rebels, or mujahideen, with safe havens in neighboring Iran and Pakistan, received arms and ammunition from the United States, enabling them to prolong the struggle indefinitely. The Soviet high command capped the commitment of troops to the war at 150,000, for the most part treating it as a sideshow while keeping its main focus on a possible war with NATO. The conflict was finally brought to a negotiated end after the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with nearly 15,000 men killed in vain.


Gorbachev’s policy of rapprochement with the West had a major impact on the Soviet armed forces. Between 1989 and 1991 their numbers were slashed by one million, with more cuts projected for the coming years. The defense budget was cut, the army and air force were withdrawn from Eastern Europe, naval ship building virtually ceased, and the number of nuclear missiles and warheads was reduced—all over the objections of the military high command. Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or openness, exposed the horrible conditions of service for soldiers, particularly the extent and severity of hazing, which contributed to a dramatic increase in desertions and avoidance of conscription. The prestige of the military dropped precipitously, leading to serious morale problems in the officer corps. Motivated in part by a desire to restore the power, prestige, and influence of the military in politics and society, the minister of defense, Dmitry Iazov, aided and abetted the coup against Gorbachev in August 1991. The coup failed when the commanders of the armored and airborne divisions ordered into Moscow refused to support it.

Antonov An 22 Antei

by Mitch on April 18, 2013 0 Comments

The mighty Antei was once the world's largest airplane and established several weight and altitude records that still stand. Despite its sheer bulk, it handles well and operates easily from unprepared airstrips.


Russia is characterized geographically by huge distances and varied topographical features that can make surface travel difficult, if not impossible. Air transportation is a possible solution, but this means that equipment must ferry huge quantities of cargo and supplies in order to be meaningful. In 1962 the Antonov design bureau was tasked with constructing a huge transport plane to facilitate the shuttling of military goods and services around the country and the world. In only three years, a functioning prototype emerged that stunned Western authorities when unveiled at the Paris Air Salon in 1965. The massive An 22 Antei (Antheus, after a huge son of Neptune in Greek mythology) was a well-conceived enlargement of the previous An ...

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Rods from God

by Mitch on April 3, 2013 0 Comments

by John Macneill Space-based weapons have exceptionally disparate advantages and disadvantages: They are extremely powerful and difficult to defend against, but they’re also expensive to launch and maintain and they’re in constant motion above the Earth. John Macneill

Space-launched darts that strike like meteors

By Eric Adams

This technology is very far out—in miles and years. A pair of satellites orbiting several hundred miles above the Earth would serve as a weapons system. One functions as the targeting and communications platform while the other carries numerous tungsten rods—up to 20 feet in length and a foot in diameter—that it can drop on targets with less than 15 minutes’ notice. When instructed from the ground, the targeting satellite commands its partner to drop one of its darts. The guided rods enter the atmosphere, protected by a thermal coating, traveling at 36,000 feet per second—comparable ...

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Soviet DUKWs

by Mitch on March 22, 2013 0 Comments

ZiS-485 (BAV) Soviet amphibious truck (Museum of Great Patriotic War, Kyiv)

The amphibious truck that became universally known as the 'Duck' first appeared in 1942, and was a version of the standard CMC 6x6 truck fitted with a boat-like hull to provide buoyancy. It derived its name from the GMC model designation system - D showed that it was a 1942 model, U that it was amphibious, K indicated that it was an all-wheel-drive model, and W denoted twin rear axles. From this came DUKW, and this was soon shortened to 'Duck.


The Duck was produced in large numbers. By the time the war ended 21,147 had been built, and the type was used not only by the US Army but also by the British army and many other Allied armed forces. Being based on a widely-used truck chassis it was a fairly simple amphibious vehicle to maintain and drive ...

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The Bear went through the cloud

by Mitch on March 19, 2013 0 Comments

    The Bear went over the mountain,

    The Bear went through the cloud,

    The Bear went over the mountain,

    To see what they could see.


    And all that they could see,

    And all that they could see,

    Was the other side of the cloud,

    The other side of the cloud,

    The other side of the mountain,

    Was all that they could see.


"The Bear Went Over the Mountain" is a popular children's song often sung to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow".

Cold War Turns Hot?! Part I

by Mitch on March 17, 2013 0 Comments

Reagan administration officials in 1983 were intensely focused upon an ideological competition with the Soviet Union over arms control and the so-called Euromissiles, intermediate-range missiles that both sides were deploying in Europe then. The Americans downplayed the military threat to the Russians posed by the quick-reacting Pershing II missiles that formed part of their own deployment program, and spoke of Soviet “disinformation” attempts to affect the opinions of Western Europeans living with Euromissiles in their midst. (There are, in fact, documents, including annual KGB reports from this period, revealing Russian claims to have influenced peace movements in Western Europe.) Some former U.S. officials still argue that the Soviets conjured an apocalyptic vision of the American threat, then somehow succumbed to it themselves, believing that “the Americans were coming.” This much is beyond dispute: The Soviets were fearful in 1983, and Reaganauts were so wedded to their own propaganda messages ...

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Soviet Delta-class submarine threat!

by Mitch on March 17, 2013 0 Comments

When the Soviet Delta-class submarine entered stage right in December 1972, the U.S. Navy shuddered. With a quiver of twelve R-29 ballistic missiles, each capable of delivering megatons of destruction from almost 5,000 miles away, the Delta made U.S. ASW techniques all but obsolete. Prior to the Delta’s arrival, Soviet ‘boomers’ with shorter-range missiles, in order to get close enough to the United States to launch, needed to transit from Murmansk, curve around Norway, and drop down through the Greenland/Iceland/U.K. gap. A swarm of American ships and planes greeted them there, as well as several fast-attack boats ready to latch on like trained bulldogs. With the advent of the Delta class, the Soviets could employ a new strategy: slip under the Arctic ice north of Murmansk and hide for months on end. When and if the order came to fire, they could sneak ...

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Cold War Turns Hot?! Part III

by Mitch on March 17, 2013 0 Comments

Leonid Brezhnev

Periodically, the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies jointly compiled studies of key issues called national intelligence estimates (NIEs). Among the most important NIEs was the Soviet estimate, and the one current at this time was NIE 11-3/8-82, approved by William Casey and circulated on February 15, 1983. Among other things, it concluded that the Russians would expect a crisis to precede a war, and during that period would “heighten their surveillance of enemy activity” in addition to shifting to a wartime posture and seeking to carry out deception measures. At the outset of any hostilities, the NIE remarked, “The Soviets would try to implement a theaterwide air offensive [in Europe]” to neutralize NATO nuclear assets. Ominously, the CIA estimate contains this: “If [the Soviets] acquired convincing evidence that a U.S. intercontinental strike was imminent, they would try to preempt.” This would be most likely ...

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Cold War Turns Hot?! Part II

by Mitch on March 17, 2013 0 Comments

Then came KAL 007. The Soviet shootdown of the Korean airliner on September 1, egregious error that it was, proved less damaging to U.S.-Soviet relations than Moscow's initial inclination to deny everything. Kremlin confusion increased because Yuri Andropov, sick with failing kidneys, had left Moscow for a Black Sea resort, his vacation becoming a convalescence. His absence from Moscow left various sectors of the Soviet apparat adrift. Washington was willing to fish in these troubled waters. Reagan's NSDD-102 declared that “Soviet brutality in this incident presents an opportunity to reverse the false moral and political ‘peacemaker’ perception that their regime has been cultivating.” There followed a series of acrimonious charges in Washington and Moscow, and the release of American recordings of radio chatter by the Soviet interceptor pilot and his controllers, which showed the fighter plane had fired without much thought for the target. Both sides ...

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Proposed Soviet Battleships/Battlecruisers

by Mitch on March 15, 2013 0 Comments

The Sovetsky Soyuz-class battleships (Project 23), also known as "Stalin's Republics", were a class of battleships begun by the Soviet Union in the late 1930s but never brought into service. They were designed in response to the battleships being built by Germany. Only four hulls of the sixteen originally planned had been laid down by 1940, when the decision was made to cut the program to only three ships to divert resources to an expanded army rearmament program.



The K-1000 battleship was rumoured to be a type of advanced battleship produced by the Soviet Union at the beginning of the Cold War. Soviet intelligence agencies actively encouraged the circulation of rumours about the type, which were reprinted by several Western journals including Jane's Fighting Ships.



The Kronshtadt-class battlecruisers, with the Soviet designation as Project 69 heavy cruisers, were ordered for the Soviet Navy in the late 1930s. Two ...

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MiG Fighter Aircraft Development WWII

by Mitch on September 11, 2012 0 Comments


After operational tests of the MiG-3 powered by the M-82, produced in a small batch of five aircraft designated MiG-9 M-82, one more modification was built in 1943, this time with a boosted engine. The fighter was designated I-211No.211 (or Type 'E'). Its fuselage was reshaped to give a smoother transition from the cowling and controllable gills to the side panels, the cockpit was moved a little further aft, the air intakes of the oil cooler were positioned in the wing centre section leading edge near the fuselage sides, the shape of fin was changed and the tailplane was raised. Two ShVAK synchronised guns were housed in the wing centre section.


The flight test data obtained in 1943 were quite good. The maximum speed at 23,000ft (7,000m) was 416mph (670km/h), and only four minutes were required to climb to 16,400ft (5,000m). The second ...

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