Thursday, April 12, 2007

Spitfires in Russia

An interesting piece of history. On the shortcomings of the Spitfire on the Eastern front:

"In the first place, air war on the Eastern front by its nature differed significantly from the war in the Western theater of military operations, and many factors influenced its role in the East. Because aerial engagements in the East were conducted at low and medium altitudes, the engines of the “Russian” Spitfires did not develop the same horsepower as they provided on the Western front at higher, working altitudes, for which the aircraft and its engine were designed. As a consequence, the speed of the fighter was lower. In addition, in Russian conditions, the Spitfire had to function largely from primitive airfields. Its low chassis frequently did not withstand the unevenness of the airfields—the aircraft got stuck, went nose-over, and broke their wooden propellers, and therefore the pilots had to be extremely careful during taxi on the ground.

After flying our Soviet-manufactured aircraft [most of which had center-line weapons], our pilots were uncomfortable with the wing mounting of all the weapons—two cannons and four machine guns—of the Spitfire Mk. Vb. “The aircraft’s weapons are spread along the entire width of the aircraft, resulting in insufficient centralized fire” says one evaluation. Despite the fact that there was experience in the Soviet VVS of the employment of the I-16 with the ShVAK wing cannons, Soviet fighter pilots were more used to armaments located in the nose portion of the aircraft. In conditions of high-maneuver engagements, which were in the character of our fighters, such weapons gave superiority. The weight of a salvo was concentrated and directed to a specific portion of the enemy aircraft. In the case of the wing-mounted weapons of the Spitfire, it was necessary in the first place to become accustomed to the great dispersion of the weapons; and in the second place, to diligently shoot them, so that the tracers go to a single point. If gunnery skill is not developed, the shells and rounds may not hit the target.

However, most of all the technical personnel of the regiments were dissatisfied with the power plant of the British fighter—the Merlin 45 and 46 engines. In particular, the summaries say that the “engines function fully satisfactorily. The strong side of the Merlin engine is the fact that a PRD has been mounted on it, a regulator for the quality of the [fuel] mixture. ”The engine had another quality as important to technical personnel as simplicity of service—assembly and disassembly of the engine was simple; there were no particularly difficult approaches to it. The engine started easily, its RZ-5 spark plugs worked for up to 50–60 hours which, as the mechanics noted, was also a good indicator. However, these same spark plugs had a “very weak electrode.”

Adjustment of the engine itself, according to the testimony of specialists, was simple. The qualities that the pilots liked, and which were very important in aerial combat—transition to various regimes of power of the Merlin were smooth. The engine had good acceleration—it is obvious that this quality substantially assisted Spitfire pilots in combat with Messerschmitts, which thanks to the power of the Daimler-Benz engine had good speed dynamics.

A negative quality of the Merlin was the absence of a two-speed supercharger, which reduced the ceiling [altitude range] of the engine. The engine broke down after 50–60 hours of use, after which it was necessary to change out the piston rings, along with other assemblies: hydraulic systems, fuel pumps, and air compressor. The water pump was very complex in its design and, as a rule, broke during use. “There were cases in the process of use of breakage of piston rings, broken connecting rods, the consequences of the leak of coolant in places where the cylinder sleeves were press-fitted. There is no method for starting the engine from a wheeled vehicle”, says a summary of technicians of the 57th GIAP." Link…

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