278,228 Pages

Imperial Russian Air Force
Active 1909 to 1917
Disbanded 1917
Country  Russian Empire
Allegiance Tsar Nicholas II
Role Air Force
Part of Engineer Corps (to 1915)
Stavka (from 1915)
Engagements World War I
Insignia
Roundel Imperial Russian Aviation Roundel
Fin flash Russian Imperial Air force flash.svg

Aerial ramming attack performed by Pyotr Nesterov

Remains of Austrian aircraft Albatros, first enemy airplane destroyed in flight in the history of military aviation.

The Imperial Russian Air Force (Императорскiй военно-воздушный флотъ, Emperor's Military Air Fleet) existed in the Russian Empire between 1910 and 1917.

History[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The origins of Russian aviation go back to theoretical projects of the 1880s by pioneer Russian scientists such as Nikolai Kibalchich and Alexander Mozhaysky. During the 1890s aviation innovation was further advanced by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. In 1904 Nikolai Zhukovsky established the world's first Aerodynamic Institute in Kachino near Moscow.

In 1910 the Imperial Russian Army purchased a number of French and British aeroplanes and began training the first military pilots.

The history of military aircraft in Imperial Russia is closely associated with the name of Igor Sikorsky. In 1913 Sikorsky built the first four-engine biplane, the Russky Vityaz, and his famous bomber aircraft, the Ilya Muromets.

In the same year Dmitry Grigorovich built a number of “flying boats” for the Imperial Russian Navy.

In 1914 Russian aviators conducted the first ever flights in the Arctic looking for the lost expedition of polar explorer Georgy Sedov.

World War I[edit | edit source]

At the beginning of World War I, Russia had an air force second only to France, although a significant part of the Imperial Russian Air Force used outdated French aircraft. Initially, Russians used aviation only for reconnaissance and coordination of artillery fire, but in December 1914 a squadron of Ilya Muromets bombers was formed and used against the German and Austro-Hungarian armies.

Among Russian pilots were Pyotr Nesterov, who performed the first aerial ramming aircraft attack in the history of aviation,[1] and the most successful Russian flying ace and fighter pilot Alexander Kazakov, who shot down 20 enemy aeroplanes.[2] In 1915 the Imperial Russian Air Force, formerly part of the Engineer Corps, became a separate branch of the army directly under command of the Stavka (commander-in-chief's HQ).

However, the war was not going well for Russia and following significant setbacks on the Eastern front, and the economic collapse in the rear, military aircraft production fell far behind Russia's rival Germany.

Imperial airplane hangars in Tallinn harbor

The Imperial Russian Air Force aircraft hangars for seaplanes in Reval (Tallinn) harbor were some of the first reinforced concrete structures in the world.[3]

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the Imperial Russian Air Force was succeeded by the Workers' and Peasants' Air Fleet, with the status of a Main Directorate, on May 24, 1918.

Command Structure[edit | edit source]

At the beginning of the war the basic Russian unit was the Otryad (or Squadron). Originally, these consisted of only six planes, but this was soon increased to ten planes with two machines held in reserve. These Otryads were put together into Groups of three or four and, like their German counterparts on the Western Front, moved to strategic points on the Front where and when they were needed. Even larger groups of aircraft called Istrebitelnyi Divisyon (fighter wing) were attached to each Field Army.[4]

Constituent units of the IRAS[edit | edit source]

As the war progressed, aviation detachments were grouped into larger units:

  • 1st Boevaya Aviatsionnaya Gruppa (Battle Aviation Group): Founded 9 August 1916 on the Southwestern Front; contained:
    • 2nd Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 4th Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 19 Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)[5]
  • 2nd Boevaya Aviatsionnaya Gruppa (Battle Aviation Group): Founded April 1917 on Southwestern Front to support XI Army; contained:
    • 3rd Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 4th Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 8th Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)[5]
  • 3rd Boevaya Aviatsionnaya Gruppa (Battle Aviation Group): Founded April 1917 on Russian Empire's Western Front; contained:
    • 1st Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 11th Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)
    • 22nd Korpusnoi Aviatsionniy Otryad (Corps Aviation Detachment)[5]
  • 4th Boevaya Aviatsionnaya Gruppa (Battle Aviation Group): Founded June 1917 on Northern Front; contained:
    • 5th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)
    • 13th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)
    • 14th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)
    • 15th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)[5]
  • 5th Boevaya Aviatsionnaya Gruppa (Battle Aviation Group): Proposed in August 1917, but never formed; to contain
    • 2nd Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)
    • 6th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)
    • 7th Aviatsionniy Otryad Istrebitlei (Fighter Aviation Detachment)[5]

Production problems[edit | edit source]

In spite of Czarist Russia's need for airframes and engines, between 1914 and 1917 only about 5,000 planes were built in Russia. Much of this was due to the fact that Russian industry could not keep pace with demand. Imperial Russia did not possess the manufacturing capacity to produce engines and airframes in the numbers needed. Thus, the Czarist government relied heavily on imported engines and airframes from France and Britain.[6] Czarist Russia's aircraft production slightly outpaced her Austrian opponent, who it should be noted stayed in the war one year longer, produced about 5,000 aircraft and 4,000 engines between 1914 and 1918. Of course, the output of Russia and Austria-Hungary pale in comparison to the 20,000 aircraft and 38,000 engines produced by Italy and the more than 45,000 aircraft produced in Germany.[7]

Maintenance problems[edit | edit source]

In addition to construction problems the Imperial Russian Air Service faced great difficulties in keeping the aircraft they did have in the air. Because it was so difficult to get new machines in a timely manner and because the Russians faced a shortage of aircraft for such a large front, the Russian high command kept out of date aircraft flying as long as possible.[8] Thus, Russian pilots flew obsolete machines in combat throughout the war in the face of much better enemy airplanes. The fact that so many obsolescent machines remained in service produced Otryads that were an eclectic mix of aircraft; some front line, others nearly so, and some that should not have been flying. With so many different engines and airframes from French, British and Russian factories, trying to keep the planes flying was a constant challenge for Imperial ground crews. One report from the American War Department dated August 24, 1916 stated that, "The great majority of Russian machines are very dangerous to fly, due to the lack of proper over-hauling and having been tinkered with by inexperienced men. Lack of spare parts induced the Russians to fit magnetos and sparking systems to motors for which they were not built, and this makes the wear and tear excessive all around."[9]

The synchronization gear dilemma[edit | edit source]

The Imperial Russian Air Service, in common with other World War I air services, struggled to find a way of allowing a machine gun to fire safely through the spinning propeller of an airplane. The Russian High Command was tardy in realizing the necessity for arming its aircraft throughout 1914 and 1915, leaving frustrated aviators using such impromptu armaments as pistols, rifles, trolled anchors and cables, and other makeshifts. Part of the delay was caused by a paucity of light automatic weapons that an aircraft could lift. However, it became apparent that the ability to aim both gun and aircraft simultaneously was a great advantage in aerial combat.[10]

In late 1915, Naval Lieutenant Victor Dybovsky of the 20th KAO invented a system of cam plates mounted on an engine's crankshaft that would prevent a machine gun from holing an airplane's propeller. Static tests at the Lux Aircraft Works proved its feasibility by November 1915; towards the end of the month, Morane-Saulnier G serial no. MS567 was forwarded to the 30th KAO for field testing. Poruchik Mikhail Shadsky flew test flights on both 9 and 29 December; cold thickened the machine gun's lubricant both times, preventing it from firing.[11]

When testing restarted in April 1916, Shadsky had more success. During April and May, he engaged the enemy about ten times. He shot down Austro-Hungarian airplanes on both 23 and 24 May 1916, but crashed to his death and the plane's destruction after the latter encounter. However, production of the interrupter gear was never carried out. Instead, Dybovsky was posted to England to inspect aircraft being constructed by the Royal Flying Corps. While in Britain he worked on a version of his gear with the British inventor Scarff; it became the "Scarff-Dibovski" system used by the British. Thus it was that by April 1917, Russian had only a couple of dozen fighter planes with synchronized guns.[11]

In the interim, Praporshchik Victor Kulebakin was installing cam deflectors on another Morane-Saulnier's crankshaft. Testing in July 1917 showed that the deflectors did indeed pop out from under the aircraft's cowling to deflect any bullets that threatened the propeller. Although the modification was simple enough it could be fabricated in a unit's workshops, it was not widely used.[11]

Aircraft[edit | edit source]

Fighters[edit | edit source]

Reconnaissance[edit | edit source]

Bombers[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Blume, August. The Russian Military Air Fleet in World War I, Volume One. (Schiffer Publishing, 2010). ISBN 0764333518, 978-0764333514.
  • The Russian Military Air Fleet in World War I, Volume Two. (Schiffer Publishing, 2010) ISBN 0764333526, 9780764333521.
  • Chant, Christopher, Austro-Hungarian Aces of World War I, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces, #46 (London: Osprey Publishing, 2002)ISBN 1841763764, 978-1841763767.
  • Durkota, Alan; Darcey, Thomas; Kulikov, Victor, The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995)ISBN 0963711024, 9780963711021.
  • Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell; Alegi, Gregory. Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914–1918: Volume 4 of Fighting Airmen of WWI Series: Volume 4 of Air Aces of WWI. Grub Street, 1997. ISBN 1-898697-56-6, ISBN 978-1-898697-56-5.
  • Palmer, Scott W. Dictatorship of the Air: Aviation Culture and the Fate of Modern Russia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-85957-3.
  • Янин, В.Л. (ed.). Отечественная история c древнейших времен до 1917 года. Большая Российская Энциклопедия, 1994. ISBN unknown.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Alan Durkota, et al., The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995), pp. 203-204
  2. Norman Franks, et al., Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914–1918: Volume 4 of Fighting Airmen of WWI Series: Volume 4 of Air Aces of WWI. (Oxford, Grub Street, 1997) p. 208
  3. "Lennusadama renoveerimise mahukaim etapp sai valmis". 4 November 2011. http://www.epl.ee/news/online/lennusadama-renoveerimise-mahukaim-etapp-sai-valmis.d?id=61078561. 
  4. Christopher Chant, Austro-Hungarian Aces of World War I, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces, #46 (London: Osprey Publishing, 2002), pp. 17-18.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Alan Durkota, et al., The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995), pp. 10-12
  6. Alan Durkota, et al., The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995), pp. 331-74.
  7. Christopher Chant, Austro-Hungarian Aces of World War I, Osprey Aircraft of the Aces, #46 (London: Osprey Publishing, 2002), p. 16.
  8. Alan Durkota, et at., The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995), p. 7.
  9. Quoted in Alan Durkota, et al., The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots & Aircraft of World War One (Mountain View, CA: Flying Machines Press, 1995), p. 7 n. 5.
  10. Kulikov 2013, pp. 8, 13-14.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Kulikov 2013, pp. 13-14.

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.