Military aviation Russia during the First World War
In the First World War, Russia, which was considered backward and peasant, in fact, entered as one of the leading aviation powers. In terms of the number of combat aircraft and the level of training, the domestic air force was almost as good as the Allies in the Entente or the opponents. True, Russian airmen never managed to gain air supremacy. Their “Achilles heel” was the structural underdevelopment of the aviation industry: the lack of its own engine building and the low technological level of aircraft manufacturers. As a result - complete dependence on foreign supplies. And even airplanes of a purely Russian “origin”, which gained worldwide recognition — such as “Ilya Muromets” and flying boats of Grigorovich, were assembled using imported components.
Aviation trial and error
Russia entered World War I, deploying 244 combat aircraft, consolidated into 6 aviation companies and 39 aviation squads. In addition, the All-Russian Aero Club formed a special volunteer squadron (later the 34 corps).
Significant number of airplanes fleet was achieved by mobilizing the bulk of the fleet of flying clubs and flying schools. These were mainly French-made light aircraft, suitable for use only as reconnaissance aircraft, the Newpor-4 and Farmany 7th, 15th, and 16th models. The speed of these aircraft did not exceed 115 km / h, and the practical ceiling was 1500-2000 m. In addition to the crew and fuel supply for one to two hours of flight, they could lift no more than 30 kg of cargo.
However, besides these rather outdated machines, the military aircraft of the Russian Empire also had more advanced aircraft: the Moran-Parasol, which developed speed to 125 km / h and was rising to 4000 meters, Deeperdussen (in the further development of the SPAD structure), heavy airplane "Ilya Muromets" and the newest flying boats DP. Grigorovich.
The heterogeneity of the aircraft that were put into service, and most of all, the absolute dependence on the supply of engines and spare parts for them from Europe until the end of the war made their combat operations very difficult, and did not in the best way affect the training of pilots. A particularly difficult period in this respect was the very beginning of the war, when neither theoretical concepts of military use of aviation, nor practical experience existed yet. As a result of actions by trial and error, only in the first three months of the war, aviation units, for example, which were part of the 3, 5, 8 and 9 Russian armies, from 99 aircraft that were in service, lost 91 . The losses were similar in other armies that had attached air detachments.
Emperor Nicholas II on the front balcony of a four-engine Grand aircraft built for the needs of the Russian army. 1913 year. Photo: Archive / ITAR-TASS
The military aviation fleet of Germany at the beginning of the war totaled 232 machines, summarized in the 34 wing. Basically, these were also aircraft of outdated designs, the most interesting of which was the Taube monoplane. Subsequently, from the end of 1915, the Fokker E.I monoplane became the most sought-after German car, and from the middle of 1916, the Albatross D (in DI, DII and DIII versions), which can be considered one of the best fighters of the First World War.
The German aviation industry as a whole developed more consistently and vigorously. This trend was predetermined by the presence of its own national school of motor-building, which was not even close in Russia until the end of the war. German aircraft engines, based on Daimler-Benz, Mercedes, and Argus water-cooled automobile-type engines, turned out to be very successful in the end, they were distinguished by combat survivability and good performance.
In comparison with Germany and Russia, the leading countries of the Entente — England and France — although this seems paradoxical, possessed significantly weaker air force.
The English air fleet at the beginning of the First World War hosted only 56 aircraft, and the flight crews consisted almost exclusively of volunteer volunteers. Even more insignificant for the period of August 1914 was the US military aircraft fleet, which entered the war much later - at the end of 1913, the Americans only had 17 military aircraft, the staff had 114 pilots of different levels of training.
France surpassed the UK in the number and quality of its fleet. At the beginning of the war in the ranks, there were 138 aircraft, mostly of the newest types: "Newpore-11" and "Farman-16" (the latter could only be used for reconnaissance). Immediately after entry into the war, the French mobilized the flight crew of private aviation schools, quite numerous in France, due to which they soon deployed squadrons on the 25 front. With a developed high-tech industry, France was able to quickly begin the development and mass production of aircraft.
Russia's industrial backwardness from leading European countries predetermined a permanent lag in the number and quality of aircraft from England, France and Germany already during the war. The French aviation industry, for example, launched 1913 aircraft of various types in 541, as well as 1065 engines. Russian industry during the same period built only 296 aircraft, mostly licensed brands, and not a single serial aircraft engine of its own design.
In 1914, Germany was able to produce 1348 aircraft, and in subsequent years it significantly increased the rate of production, and most importantly, the quality of aviation products. At the same time, the gross output of all Russian aircraft factories, even in the most favorable 1916 year, did not exceed 30-40 aircraft per month, and the production of nationally developed aircraft engines was still absent. Even on structurally Russian aircraft, for example, on the same Ilya Muromets, either foreign engines were used, or licensed engines assembled from foreign components.
As noted by the famous Russian aeronautical historian P.D.Duz, on 1 January 1914, Russia occupied only fourth place in the total volume of airships, behind Germany, France and Italy. Rigid airships of the German type “Graf Zeppelin” in Russia were not built at all, although it was this type of airships that was the most innovative, suitable for long-distance raids and carrying out independent operational tasks.
The propeller of the aircraft, developed by Igor Sikorsky. Between 1910 and 1915 for years. Photo: US Library of Congress
Who is in the air chief
In 1912, the decision was made to transfer to the General Staff all issues related to the development of the Russian air fleet. Soon, however, it turned out that no one there could provide the technical side of the development of engine and aircraft construction with the required level of competence. As a result, it was decided to transfer the technical issues to the Main Engineering Directorate, which was transformed into the Main Military Technical Directorate (GVTU), and the operational questions of the use of aviation left behind the General Staff.
The Balkan Wars (1912-1913) caused the leadership of the Russian military to take more thoughtful steps in the organization of the aircraft industry and the use of military aviation. Officially, the Russian government could not send its planes to the conflict zone without a formal entry into the war. For the Russian empire, this was done by the “First Russian Aeronautical Partnership”, speaking in modern slang - a public organization that formed the Russian volunteer detachment and bought airplanes for the Bulgarian army at the aviation enterprises of Russia. This detachment took the most active part in the war of Bulgaria with Turkey, conducted aerial reconnaissance, photographed Turkish fortifications, tried to bombard Turkish troops clusters to the best of its ability.
Based on this experience, the Main Military Technical Directorate (GVTU) was tasked with the early formation of the material and technical base of the newly established aviation units. Without having its own production base, GVTU placed orders for the production of aircraft, engines and components both at leading Russian enterprises and abroad. As a result, before the start of the 1913, 12 corps, one field and 5 serf military aviation units were formed, with 6 airplanes in each. For the maintenance of the machines were formed three air fleets.
When discussed in 1913 - the beginning of 1914. the so-called "Small" and "Big" programs of re-equipment of the army, the development of military aviation was also considered in great detail. The result of this was the new decision of the General Directorate General Staff to create in the army 40 corps, 10 field, 9 serf squadrons, 8 special squadrons and 11 aerotechnical companies. The total fleet of aircraft of the Russian army should have been brought to the 300 machines. This program was designed for the period up to 1917, and by August 1914 only the first steps were taken. The immense scale and dynamics of the unfolding hostilities forced the Supreme Command to begin a real reorganization of military aircraft management as soon as possible.
As a first step, in the middle of August 1914, at the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief of the Southwestern Front, the Aviation Affairs Office was established. A similar military pilot under the North-Western Front was headed by a remarkable military pilot, a researcher of China and Central Asia, Baron Alexander Vasilievich Kaulbars. The general leadership of the military aviation of Russia was entrusted to the Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, chief of the Imperial Military Air Force.
In January 1915, his office was reorganized into the Aviation Division of the headquarters of the commander-in-chief, and then into the office of the head of aviation. Finally, at the final stage of reform in December 1916, the Office of the Field Inspector-General of the Air Force was formed. The same Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich acted as inspector general. The direct relationship of Alexander Mikhailovich with Emperor Nicholas II, by the way, did not prevent the chief of Russian military aviation from being a good aviation specialist and making a lot of useful things for the development of the national military air fleet.
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich. Photo: US Library of Congress
Synchronously with the structural changes in the top echelon of the management of the Russian military-air fleet, the reorganization of the command of the corps and field squadrons took place. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, corps squadrons arrived at the disposal of the corps headquarters, and field squadrons were seconded to the commander-in-chief's headquarters on a specific front. All serf squadrons lost operational independence and were transformed into corps. Two Russian volunteer formations also became corps detachments rigidly included in the subordination of the army corps headquarters: the Volunteer detachment of the All-Russian Aviation Club and the volunteer detachment of the Odessa Aviation Club.
Subsequently, in the second half of 1916, as the fleet of army aircraft increased and its experience gained, to carry out reconnaissance flights, as well as for massive bombardments of rear bases and important railway hubs of the enemy, they began to form large army squadrons. At the same time, the idea of creating large strategic aviation divisions was partially implemented. Aviation divisions should, ideally, unite and coordinate the actions of army squadrons during large strategic operations. The February Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent October Bolshevik armed coup prevented it from fully implementing it.
But one of the prototypes of such a long-range strategic aviation unit as early as December 1914 was a squadron of heavy Ilya Muromets airships under the command of Major General M.V. Shidlovsky. The squadron was directly subordinate to the Supreme Command Headquarters, had 10 main-line vehicles and several training for the training of the newly-staying crews. Subsequently, the squadron "Muromtsev" M.V. Shydlouski was enlarged.
What fell is missing
The technical condition of the Russian aircraft fleet in the first year of the war (both quantitatively and qualitatively) can be estimated, unfortunately, only approximately. The inevitable organizational confusion, which began on 1 in August of 1914 and lasted more than six months, did not contribute to maintaining clear and clear statistics on the loss and profit of the fleet of airplanes. Confusion increased further due to the constant internal resubmissions of squadrons. There are clear statistics for the first year of the war only for the Squadron of heavy Ilya Muromets airships, commanded by General M.V. Shidlovsky.
According to estimates by a prominent specialist in the field stories Army and Navy of the Russian Empire LG Bloodless, on 15 September 1915, of the 208 airplanes that were in service with the Russians, the 94 machine soon departed. During 1915, the army received 772 aircraft from Russian factories, of which 18 was of the type “Ilya Muromets” (according to other sources, 724 of the airplane came from Russian plants), and from French - 250. By the beginning of 1916, as noted by L.G. Bloodless, in Russian aviation there were 360 machines, in Allied French - 783, and in German alone (without Austria-Hungary) - 1600.
In connection with the almost complete dominance of German aviation in the air, the Russian Special Meeting on Defense gave permission to place a state order for an 1472 aircraft at domestic aircraft plants. As part of the execution of this order by the end of 1916, the 1384 aircraft and the 1398 engine were manufactured.
Parts of the Russian aircraft, which was captured by German troops. 1914-1915 years. Photo: US Library of Congress
Although these measures reduced the pressure level of German aviation, they did not eliminate it. German aircraft still dominated not only quantitatively but also qualitatively. To combat the dominance of the “gloomy German genius” in the air, they launched large-scale fighter production and the formation of fighter squadrons, which by the middle of 1916 had already been 10.
However, the rate of loss of Russian aviation still continued to increase. As noted by L.G. Bloodless, at one of the meetings of the Special Meeting on Defense, those present were shocked by the information of front-line general MA A. Belyaev said that in the army the number of combat aircraft in corps and army formations dropped to 199, and in the serf squadrons to 64.
As a result of new large-scale purchases of aircraft, including in the Allied countries of the Entente, by the end of 1916, the situation with the aviation fleet was somewhat stabilized. For this period, 12 divisions, 15 army and 64 corps, 3 serfs and 12 fighter squadrons, as well as one special squadron for the protection of Headquarters acted on the front. In total, in the Russian military aviation to the beginning of 1917, there were 774 aircraft.
Formed in December 1916, the Office of the Inspector-General of the Air Force - in fact, approached the Ministry of Aviation - planned in the first half of 1917 to bring the number of aviation divisions to 15, and units of different levels to 146, while these front-line 1500 structures were equipped with aircraft.
In order only to cover (without increasing the staff) combat and emergency loss of vehicles, the front needed to receive at least monthly 400 aircraft from aircraft plants. In order to accomplish this task, in February 1917, a special meeting of the Special Meeting on Defense was convened.
Speaking at it, the Chairman of the State Duma, M.V. Rodzianko subjected the situation in the aviation industry to sharp criticism: “Despite the fact that the war has been going on for the third year, the development of Russian aviation continues to be weak, the number of airplanes is increasing slowly, the number of pilots produced by schools is insignificant, and the unfavorable ratio of our aviation forces with the enemy has not undergone any significant change in our favor. " Further, the Chairman of the State Duma emphasized that, if at the beginning of the war, Russian aviation numerically outnumbered enemy aircraft, then from 1916, it began to lag significantly.
Chairman of the State Duma, Mikhail Rodzianko. Photo: Gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotheque nationale de France
Representatives of the Main Military Technical Directorate informed the Special Meeting that for the entire 1917 year and the first half of 1918, the total front demand for combat aircraft is 10065 machines. Of these, 895 was required for army squadrons, 4351 for corps, 4214 for fighter jets, 485 for training fighters, and also Ily Muromets heavy aircraft of at least 120. Representatives of the GVTU were forced to state that the domestic aviation industry was unable to deliver such a number of aircraft equipment to the front.
The obvious fact that the predominantly private aviation industry of Russia proved incapable of large-scale development of aviation production in the context of the global military conflict, finally pushed the empire's military department to the decision to build a large state-owned aircraft factory. It was decided to build a large plant for the production of engines and airplanes in Kherson, where a small experimental aircraft factory was already being built, designed to produce 200 aircraft and engines per year. It was assumed that he will become the center for the development of new types of aircraft for state orders.
The collapse of the state power system, which had already taken place in Russia in February 1917, was soon continued by the armed coup of the Bolsheviks, after which all aviation construction in Russia ceased for a long time.
The state of the aircraft fleet in Russia at the end of 1917 was depressing. In the whole country, there were 1109 aircraft (for comparison, in Germany - more than 2800). Of these, ninety-one squadrons had 579 machines on their fronts. The remaining 530 aircraft were at the disposal of the training centers. The Allies on the Entente actually boycotted the fulfillment of Russian orders for the supply of aircraft. According to the already approved contracts, from the 1153 aircraft ordered abroad, the entire 1 winged vehicles arrived in the port of Arkhangelsk before 1918 in January 148.