IL-2: Battle of Moscow

In autumn of 1941, German forces were on the doorstep of the Soviet capital of Moscow. A bitter fought battle against time, the elements and each other resulted in a halt of the German offensive on the capital and eventually a gradual retreat away. In the skies over Moscow of 1941 and early 1942, a mix of late 1930s and early 1940s era aircraft fought for control.

I-16 Type 24

Short and stubby fuselage and wings typified the 1930s design of Russian aircraft designer  Nikolai Polikarpov. Both the I-16 and I-15 designs were extremely successful and considered world beating designs of that inter-war period. By 1941, the I-16 was obsolete, bested by a generation of new fighters on both sides… yet, the I-16 remained popular and available in numbers. Available 20mm cannon modification makes the I-16 a heavy hitter and its agility and diminutive size allow it to punch above its weight.

Strengths

  • Extremely agile with a high roll rate and good turn rate
  • Good all around visibility except immediately over the nose
  • Available firepower modifications

Weaknesses

  • Unforgiving stall
  • Poor overall top speed compared to more modern types

MiG-3

Designed by Mikoyan and Gurevich whose design bureau would go on to create the iconic MiG-15, MiG-25 and MiG-29, the MiG-3 was the beginning of an era. Designed for anticipated operations at high altitudes and fast speeds, the MiG-3 was ill suited to the low altitude tactical warfare that had erupted on the Eastern Front.

The later model represented by IL-2: Battle of Moscow has leading edge slats which make it easier to handle up to the stall and available gunpods (BK 12.7mm) and nose gun modifications (2xUB 12.7mm or 2xShVAK 20mm cannon) give the MiG-3 some flexibility in shooting down enemy bombers and fighters.

Strengths

  • Fast at high altitudes
  • Good firepower options

Weaknesses

  • Poorer performance versus contemporary fighters at low altitude
  • Poor visibility over the nose
  • Not able to sustain much battle damage

IL-2 Model 1941

Over 36,000 IL-2 aircraft were constructed and this Model 1941 version represents an early example. In some ways this early model has added features that weren’t found on later aircraft. On 20mm cannon equipped versions the rear armored glass provides strong protection from enemy fire while also offering a clear view to the back.

While the IL-2 Model 1941 is fairly agile, its still vulnerable to fighter interception and it lacks any provisions for a rear turret. What the IL-2 is best at is taking the fight to enemy ground troops including vehicles, armored cars and light and medium tanks. Armor piercing rockets, high explosive bombs, and optional 23mm VYa cannons make the IL-2 a fearsome weapon when used on the frontlines.

Strengths

  • Sturdy and heavily armored
  • Slightly more agile than later IL-2 variants

Weaknesses

  • Vulnerable to enemy fighter interception
  • No rear gunner

ground troops including vehicles, armored cars and light and medium tanks. Armor piercing rockets, high explosive bombs, and optional 23mm VYa cannons make the IL-2 a fearsome weapon when used on the frontlines.

Pe-2 Series 35

One of the best ground attack weapons of World War II, the Pe-2 was used from early in the war to the very end and saw service in post war European air forces as well. Fast, tough and versatile, the Pe-2 Series 35 is the earliest version available in the sim and has less armor protection as well as weaker defensive armament than the later Series 87 (in IL-2: Battle of Stalingrad) though it has a slight speed edge over its heavier successor.

These twin engined aircraft were often used as a light bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, and in reconnaissance roles.

Highly successful, the Pe-2 nonetheless suffered greatly at the hands of the Luftwaffe’s expert pilots.

Strengths

  • Very fast top speed, even at cruise
  • Capable of carrying a large bombload for its size and speed
  • Robust construction and capable of absorbing medium damage and flying on

Weaknesses

  • Vulnerable to enemy fighter interception
  • Early version has weak defensive guns

P-40E-1 (Collector Plane)

Easily one of the most iconic American fighters of World War II, the P-40E-1 is one of many thousands of Lend Lease aircraft that were sent to the Soviet Union by the United States to help in the war effort.

The P-40E-1 is a mediocre fighter with some tricky handling. Its robust construction and heavy battery of six .50cal (or four with weight reduction) machine guns and reasonable bomb and rocket load make for a very good ground attack aircraft. It’s also good as a bomber interceptor at medium and low altitudes but its high altitude performance is lacking as is its climb.

Much maligned, the P-40 is nonetheless a useful fighter but never a world beater.

Strengths

  • Very powerful forward armament
  • Ability to take significant amounts of damage and keep on flying
  • Good forward visibility except over the nose

Weaknesses

  • Poor climb rate and average agility
  • In some flight regimes the aircraft can become unstable

Bf109E-7

The Bf109E-7 represents the last of the 1930s version of the Dora and Emil series of Messerschmidt’s classic fighter. Though still a capable fighter with good climb, speed and the best handling of the Bf109 series, this is a fighter that is very much on its way out. In the battle for Moscow, the E-7 plays second fiddle to the more advanced and redesigned Bf109F-2 and F-4 versions. A competent fighter pilot can still make this into a powerful and dangerous opponent and should never be underestimated.

The Emil series of Bf109 were ultimately used in a secondary role as a capable fighter-bomber with SC250 and SC50 bomb-racks and sufficient agility to avoid enemy ground fire – though a direct hit was often devastating for these aircraft.

Strengths

  • Best handling Bf109 of the series with a good turn rate and excellent stall behavior
  • Capable firepower with twin MG-FF/M 20mm cannons
  • Good ammo duration

Weaknesses

  • Lightly protected and vulnerable to ground fire
  • Not as fast in climb or top speed as later models, slightly outclassed by the MiG-3 in some respects

Bf109F-2

The ‘Freidrich’ series of Bf109s represented a pinnacle of design and performance for Messerschmidt’s famous fighter series. Cleaned up aerodynamics with structural improvements and revised armament were all part of improving the basic Bf109 design and nearly all fighter squadrons in the early days after Barbarossa up to the Moscow battle were flying these earlier series Bf109F-2s.

Early iterations of the F-2 were armed with the MG151/15 firing a 15mm cannon round at high velocity through the propeller hub. These were later changed to a MG151/20 slightly increasing the size of the shell and adding significant high explosive potential made this into a potent killer of both fighters and well armored attack aircraft like the IL-2.

During its reign in the middle and end parts of 1941, the Bf109F-2 was the supreme fighter on the Eastern front with no equals.

Strengths

  • Excellent top speed and climb
  • Ample agility to take on all opponents

Weaknesses

  • MG151/15 armed versions suffer a little in hitting power (MG151/20 version available)

Bf110E-2

Willy Messerschmidt’s other fighter creation, the Bf110 was designed as a long range escort fighter to be flown by the cream of the Luftwaffe’s fighter pilot corps. It was too large and not agile enough to be suitable in that role and later versions like the E-2 model were more oriented towards ground attack duties.

The Bf110E-2 is a capable attacker with its four 7.92mm machine guns and twin MG-FF/M 20mm cannon along with a variety of bombs including powerful SC500 general purpose bombs. A rear gunner provides adequate defense.

Though not able to go toe to toe with fighters on its own, in a team environment the Bf110 can take on enemy fighters with just enough speed, agility and firepower. Enemy bombers should also fear this heavy fighter, though its larger size makes it more vulnerable to return fire from defensive gunners.

Strengths

  • Potent firepower from its guns and available bomb attachments
  • Good durability (especially with the armor upgrade) and reliability thanks to twin engines

Weaknesses

  • Vulnerable to agile enemy fighters
  • Rear gunner has a slow firing machine gun with some restricted view

Ju88A-4

Designed before the war as a Schnellbomber (fast bomber), the Ju88A-4 mostly lives up to the original intent. This is a multi-role twin engined medium bomber with very good defensive armament and a potent bomb-load that includes large numbers of small bombs or an overload up to the SC1800. Both level-bombing and dive-bombing are options for this aircraft with its strong airframe and dive-brakes.

In the Battle of Moscow 1941 planeset the Ju88 is very fast and at level-bombing altitude it is difficult to catch. Its an aircraft that fits into multiple time periods from 1941 through 1944 and though its survivability versus increasingly more capable fighters goes down over time, its still an excellent aircraft.

Strengths

  • Fast and reasonably agile for a medium bomber
  • Well defended and well armed with a large payload
  • Flexible: capable of level-bombing and dive bombing as well as low level attacks

Weaknesses

  • No fixed forward firing guns available on the A-4 model

MC.202 (Collector Plane)

Mario Castoldi’s brilliant MC.202 design is often compared to the Bf109 and was often confused with the Japanese Ki-61 as well. Though all three of these fighters share the same basic DB601 engine, the MC.202 is very much its own fighter design drawing much from its predecessor. Crisp handling and good overall performance are the highlights of this Italian fighter. Its greatest defect was its poor armament with twin Breda SAFAT 12.7mm machine guns firing at slower speeds with less hitting power than similar American, Russian or German equivalents.

There was only a small amount of use by the MC.202 on the Eastern Front with a couple of squadrons participating in battles near Stalingrad and one squadron involved with escorts of Stukas into the Stalingrad area during the early stages of the battle.

Strengths

  • Agile and forgiving handling
  • One of the highest dive speeds of any aircraft in-game

Weaknesses

  • Lightly armed even when adding additional machine guns (20mm gunpods do increase firepower)