I-15bis in the Winter War

Updated on November 11 2019

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The Winter War (Finnish: Talvisota, Russian: Zimnyaya voyna) began with the Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939 (three months after the outbreak of World War II), and ended with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940.

The Soviet Union claimed that Finland cede substantial border territories in exchange for land elsewhere, claiming security reasons, primarily the protection of Leningrad, which was only 32 km from the Finnish border. Whem Finland refused, the USSR invaded the country.

The Soviets possessed more than three times as many soldiers as the Finns, thirty times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. The Red Army, however, had been crippled by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of 1937. With more than 30,000 of its officers executed or imprisoned, including most of those of the highest ranks, the Red Army in 1939 had many inexperienced senior and mid-level officers. So Finland repelled Soviet attacks for several months, much longer than the Soviets expected, causing heavy losses to the Soviet Army.

After reorganization and adoption of different tactics, the renewed Soviet offensive overcame Finnish defenses at the borders. Finland had to cede more territory than originally demanded by the Soviet Union in 1939, particularly along Lake Ladoga and in Northern Finland.

Hostilities ceased in March 1940 with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty.

(text adapted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_War )

Soviet Air Force (V-VS) utilized mainly planes of the following types: I-15bis, I-153, I-16, R-5, SB, DB-3, TB-3.

They suffered high losses, and some planes that had to made forced landings were captured and reutilized by the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat).



10 'Za Stalina'

I-15bis blue (?) 10 was the plane of HSU Commissar Volosovich of 13 OIAE (means 'Otdelnaya Istrebitelnaya Aviacionnaya eskadrilya' = Detached (independent) fighter squadron), 61 Aviation Brigade. The most prominent feature is the slogan 'Za Stalina!' (for Stalin!). It was painted on November 30, 1940. It's unclear if it was painted for the photo session only, or the plane was flown with it on.

The fuselage star is visible on its upper and lower part, but not in the inscription area; this could depend on some restoration on the photo. The color of the number is unknown, but it appears lighter than the red star on the fuselage (nearly unvisible on the green background) and we can guess it was medium blue. It seems that there is a white spinner, nearly unvisible on the background. The plane has a ski gear, as often seen during the Winter War. The thing on the wing is a lock for the ailerons.


Photo from Polikarpow I-15bis, M:Maslov, Wydawnictwo Militaria



Red 85



Plane 'red (?) 85' was photographed in 1940, during the Winter War against Finland.

In the profile, the number was drawn as '85', but it could also be a 3-digits number.

Its livery looks the standard factory one with AII green uppersurfaces and the undersurfaces painted with AE-9 light grey on metallic parts and AII aluminum on fabric-skinned parts. It seems that the side wing struts were painted green, that is not a standard for this type.

The bort number 85 was presumably red with white outline; the fonts look irregular, but this is probably an illusion due to the rudder being moved to right.

The plane is without its spinner, it has a ski gear for winter operations. Note the torches protruding under the lower right wing. A parachute bag lies on the wing root.




Yellow 173 of 145 IAP


Plane 'yellow 173', serial number 4616 of 2nd squadron of 152 IAP, made a forced landing on the ice of Lake Oulujärvi on 24 December 1939. The pilot, Lieutenant Y.A. Andreev, shot himself.

The aircraft was intact; in February 1940 it was introduced into Finnish service under the designation VH-11. Later it was designated VH–2, and since 1943 - Sh–2.

The number was described as yellow in written reports. On the photo, the spinner can give the idea of a light color, but it could be an illusion due to ice and light. The green outer wing struts are probably a field repainting, already seen on other planes on this front, because the factory standard painting of the struts of I-15bis should be light grey.



Yellow 161


Plane yellow 161 was flown by lt. Breyev of 1 DRAE. It was damaged by AA fire and forced to land on 19 February 1940. Its construction number was 4435.

DRAE means 'dalnyaya razvedyvatelnaya aviacionnaya eskadrilya' (long range recce squadron); it was equipped mainly with SB; I-15bis were attached to the 1DRAE from 49 iap for tactical recognition; there is a mention that those I-15bis planes got cameras.

Usually, cameras in Soviet planes were installed inside, looking in vertical from some glazed window opened under the fuselage, just behind the cockpit.

The font and position of the bort number resembles to that of plane yellow 173; so we can guess that it was yellow.


Other photos of I-15bis during the Winter War



Above: image of I-15bis while started by a truck with an apposite device. The front part of the spinner is surprisingly missing. The plane has a ski gear, as usual.

Below: a plane of 12 OIAE. OIAE stands for Otdelnaya Istrebitelnaya Aviacionnaya eskadrilya = Detached (independednt) fighter squadron.

Differently from other ones, it has a wheels gear, with its fairing removed because it could easily collect ice and stop the wheel. The painting of the spinner is unusual and interesting. Unluckily, the bort number is not readable.




http://aviadejavu.ru/Site/Crafts/Craft19934.htm collection of images and notes from Russian magazines.

Istoria Aviacii n.33

Polikarpov biplane fighters of Y.Gordon and K. Dexter, Red Stars vol.6

Polikarpow I-15bis, of M. Maslov, Wydawnictwo Militaria n.199

Red Stars 6, of Geust and Petrov, ed. Apali Oy




This page shows many photos from many sources, not always credited.

If someone thinks to have rights on some images, please don't feel hurted, email to Massimo Tessitori and I'll provide to credit or remove them.



Aleksandr Ruchkovsky and Vitaliy Timoshenko have helped in the collection of informations.