Bobrowc on the Il'ya Muromet

Lionel Kearns (
Mon, 24 Apr 1995 23:55:35 -0700

Any of you dudes built a Il'ya Muromet? Here is the lowdown
I picked up from the other newsgroup. Thought maybe some of you
would find it interesting.
(it's long, and comes in 2 sections)


>Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 23:12:06 -0500
>Precedence: bulk
>Subject: The Beginnings of Air Power/Part 1
>X-Listprocessor-Version: 6.0a -- ListProcessor by Anastasios Kotsikonas
>X-Comment: Military History of the First World War
> The Beginnings of Air Power: Russia's Long Range Strategic Reconnaissance
>and Bomber Squadron 1914-1917
>By Carl J. Bobrowc
>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 it's 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 worlds 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
>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
>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, who's 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.
>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.
>After the successful construction of the worlds 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.
>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.
>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.
>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
>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.
>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.

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