Wednesday, October 3, 2007

No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings

Glory to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War! Glory to the Stalin’s falcons!
P. Vandyshev, L. Torich, 1941

This airforce poster was created in 1941 - right after Soviet Union entered World War 2.

In the foreground there is an aircraft gunner who operates ShKAS – a 7.62 mm rapid fire machine gun, which was designed in the thirties and entered production in 1934. It had a firing rate of 1,800 rounds/min for wing or turret-mounted versions, and was significantly more powerful than all its rivals, which could reach only 1.100 rounds/min rate for the best ones like MG-17 (Germany). In 1936 ShKAS was first used in Spain Civil War where Spanish Republic forces received aid from USSR opposing the General Franco’s regime, backed by Nazi Germany and Italy.

1936 Spain Civil War was also a first experience under fire for the aircraft in the background of this poster – the Polikarpov I-16. This was an advanced monoplane fighter with cutting-edge innovations such as retractable landing gear and a fully enclosed cockpit. Although being built from plywood (fuselage) and duralumin only in wings it was designed for speed: with 900 horsepower it could reach 462 km/h at optimal altitude. But it wasn’t the speed that made it a real pre-war champion-killer. The short plane had superb horizontal maneuverability although requiring special skills to fly. Even when the army started receiving new advanced aircrafts some pilots managed to fight the generally superior Messerschmitt Bf 109s on their “Donkeys” – the nickname of I-16 (“donkey” in Russian is “Ishak” which is similar in pronunciation to the “I-16”). And like real donkeys I-16s were very reliable as half of those plains not hit yet were still operational in 1943. I-16 could have up to 4 ShKASes in his wings – obtaining an outstanding firing density.

These two Soviet weapons got together on this poster in order to strengthen the morale of the Soviet people and show the fighting potential the country was capable of. Unfortunately it took another year to put this potential in practice – and finally stop the German offensive at the Battle of Moscow in the early 1942.

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