British Aircraft in Russia

By Kulikov, Viktor P. | Air Power History, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

British Aircraft in Russia


Kulikov, Viktor P., Air Power History


During the years immediately preceding World War I, the Tsarist Russian government began purchasing aircraft from Great Britain and France, a practice that continued throughout the war. While Russia received most of its aviation equipment from France, Britain was represented by many important types of aircraft and engines. Shipments of aircraft, as well as every sort of military equipment, were carried by merchant ships from ports in France and Britain to the mostly ice- free port at Archangel on the White Sea.

Soon after the Bolshevik "October" Revolution, of November 7, 1917, most of the Russian army and navy aviation equipment passed into Red hands, forming the foundation for the new Red Air Fleet. During the Civil War in North and South Russia, the Reds would face British RAF aviation detachments brought in to support the Whites. In North Russia, the British formed Slavo-British aviation units (Slavyano-Britansky otryad), that operated from rough airfields near Archangel. As the Civil War progressed in both regions, numbers of enemy aircraft and their crews were captured by Red troops. Even after the end of the Civil War, many foreign aircraft remained in the inventory of the Red Air Fleet. These included previously captured and newly purchased planes from British, French, German, and Italian companies.

By the end of the 1920s, British aircraft were being fully replaced by indigenous types. During the 1930s, some second-hand British planes occasionally appeared in the USSR. In 1940, during the Red Army's occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, their air forces were seized, and about 100 obsolescent British aircraft fell into Red hands. Only a few of them were ever used by the Soviet Air Force (VVS RKKA). In June 1941, the Germans launched their offensive into Russia. Soon the British government began delivering military equipment to the USSR. Supplies included British or U.S. built fighters and bombers, which substantially helped the Soviets defeat the Luftwaffe and stem the German tide. After 1945, numbers of these foreign aircraft continued in service. In fact British Spitfires remained in air defense units until the early 1950s. Although some U.S. planes were captured in different local wars and sent to evaluation test centers, after World War II no British planes fell into Soviet hands. Today, in Russia, only British aircraft are displayed at museum expositions and international airports. British aircraft that saw service in Russia are listed below, alphabetically by type.

Armstrong Whitworth

Some Siskin IIA fighters were captured by Soviet troops in Estonia. Since they were all obsolete they went to the scrap heap at once.

In 1943, eleven Albemarle transports made successful flights from Scotland to Vnukovo airport, near Moscow, the first landing on March 3. Most of the Albemarles were accepted by the 3d Regiment of the 1st Transport Division (10th Guards Division). The 65th Regiment of Naval Aviation (Izmailovo-Moscow) had four aircraft. As transports the Albemarles were criticized by crews because of their inadequate carrying capacity and low reliability. Within six months two aircraft were destroyed in crashes and two others damaged. Later, all airworthy Albemarles served at Levanevsky flying school (Bezenchuk, later Nikolaev) as bomber-trainers. By summer of 1945, the last Albemarles had disappeared from Russian skies.

AVRO

The AVRO 504K two-seat biplane first appeared in Russia during the 1920s, when some machines entered service in the Don air detachment of General Wrangel's White forces and the 2d air detachment of the White Volunteer Army. They took part in anti-Bolshevik fighting in South Russia. Some were captured by the Reds. In 1922, Soviet Russia bought a batch of AVRO 504Ks (on wheels) and AVRO 504Ls (on floats) from Great Britain. Soviet factories copied this plane as the U-1 (AVRO 504K) and MU-1 (AVRO 504L). The U-ls served as military trainers until 1932.

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