DC-3 in Soviet service

Updated on March 30, 2021

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After the great success of their innovative airliner DC-2 of 1934, Douglas developed a larger, improved 14-bed sleeper version called DST; after this beginning, it was built a derivative equipped with seats as normal airliner, named DC-3.

This was a twin-engined metal monoplane of particularly modern conception, well performing, reliable and comfortable.

It had a cruise speed of 333 km/h, a capacity of 21 to 32 passengers or 2,700 kg of cargo, and a range of 2,400 km, and could operate from short runways.


The DC-3 (early production type) was engined by two Wright R-1820 Cyclone single row 9 cylinders engines with an output of 1000 hp, distinguishable for a short cowling.

Image from Profiles n.096 - The Douglas DC-3


The DC-3A and the most part of later modifications were engined with two Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp two rows engines with 14 cylinders with an output of 1200 hp, distinguishable for a longer cowling, as that of military versions C-47 and 53.

Image from Profiles n.096 - The Douglas DC-3




In mid '30s, the standard plane of the Aeroflot was the obsolete PS-9, but there was nothing satisfying to replace it. The more modern PS-35 and PS-89 weren't giving the hoped results, so the Soviet government was very interested into the innovative Douglas airliners.

In 1935 it bought a single DC-2 that was studied by TsAGI (Central institute of Aerodynamics), then it was assigned to Aeroflot with the civil registration M25, serving for some time on the Moscow-Berlin route, then on the Moscow- Prague route. The plane managed to make 54 flights before crashing on August 6, 1937 on an intermediate step in Romania. The cause was an explosion due to fuel vapors in the toilet, that ignited when a passengers smoked.

It was considered to copy this plane without license, but the considerable technological difficulties in building a so advanced plane suggested to acquire a production license from Douglas.

In 1936, a big group of Soviet engineers led by V.M. Myashchishev was sent to Douglas to see the building methods of DC-3.

Four planes, one DC-3-196 s/n 1589, and three DC-3-227 s/n 1974, 1987, 1988 were purchased in late 1936 and spring 1937; another two disassembled pattern aircraft were purchased in 1938.


URSS M-132 (later URSS-A) , s/n 1589, was purchased in late 1936. On December 1, 1936 the disassembled plane was shipped to Europe. The aircraft was delivered to the USSR in early 1937.; it was the first Soviet DC-3.

The machine was tested at the GVF research Institute, and then it was delivered to the international air lines Authority (IATA), which was established shortly before, and inscribed in the Soviet aviation register as M132 on 25 June 1937.

On June 27, 1937, it opened the route to Stockholm. The pilots were Timashev and Demchenko.

It was a DC-3-196, a type characterized by the passenger's door on the right side of the fuselage instead of the left side.

The most part of available photos of Soviet DC-3s show the passenger's door on the left side.

Image from Aviakollectsia 3/2005



There was some interest for the related bomber B-18 Bolo too, but it vanished because of the successful development of the DB-3.

Meanwhile Zavod n.84 in Khimki, NW of Moscow, was chosen for the license production of the plane, but the starting of the production met a lot of difficulties, due to the necessity to adapt many components and measures to the Soviet metric standard, besides the materials available in Soviet union were poorer than their US counterpart, and there were difficulties to reach the safety parameters with them.

Due to the delays in domestic production, nine DC-3-196 (s/n 2031 to 2033 and 2042 to 2047) were purchased in March 1938, and further six DC-3-196B in December 1938.

Before being able to start its own production in 1939, USSR bought a total of 21 DC-3 in 1936-38, that served both with Aeroflot for international routes and with the VVS for special tasks.

The production of DC-3 airliners in U.S. was stopped in 1942 after 953 planes built in the Long Beach plant, leaving space to military variants as C-47 and C-53.






All the DC-3s acquired by Soviet Union were equipped with two Wright R-1820 Cyclone single row 9 cylinders engines with an output of 1000 hp, distinguishable for its short cowling. This engine was produced under license in Soviet Union as M-25, equipping the most part of the I-16 and I-15bis fighters; the later M-62 and M-63 for fighters, and the geared M-62IR for the PS-84/Li-2, the Soviet copy of DC-3, derived from the Cyclone.

The photo shows the characteristic flat-top opening of the cowling of the DC-3, that were common to very early production PS-84.

Another visual characteristic that made it recognizable was the flat front propeller's hub without spinner, and the small air intakes above and below the short cowling.

Image from the web


Another detail of the engines of a DC-3. Note the aerial masts under the nose: one L-shaped on in aft-central position, and a straight one behind it, slightly offset on the left side. not on all planes.

This simple L-shaped mast was different from that of the later DcC-3A and C-47/53 variants.

Image from the web




Drawing by Tapani Tuomanen




Plane F-6 after landing at Hanko airport on 22.3.1940, few days after Winter War, transporting the Soviet delegation.
In the Peace Treaty of Moscow on May 12, 1940 Finland was compelled to lease to the Soviet Union Hanko headland and the town of Hanko for a naval base for a time period of 30 years. The time for change-over was May 22, 1940 midnight.

The plane was an U.S. build early DC-3-607, characterized by the passenger's door on its left side. Douglas logos are visible on the nose and the tail. The inscription F.6 is painted under the left wing, probably over the right one, and on the tail.

Small red stars were located above and below the wings and on the rudder.


Note the surprising length of the hinges of the rudder, and the wide gap with the fin when it was turned.

Images: archive Sa-Kuva




Drawing by Tapani Tuomanen



Plane CCCP-L3407 was inscribed in the civil register on 20 January 1940 operating with the Aeroflot, then it was utilized during the Winter War with the apposition of small red stars on the wings and on the fuselage.

Although not clearly visible, there should be the inscription 'Aeroflot' on the nose sides and a loop aerial atop of the fuselage.

Note the anodized metal livery, with visible differences between panels.



The plane was utilized during the Winter War to transport wounded soldiers. This plane was photographed on the airport of Leningrad.

This DC-3s had one passengers door on the left side of the fuselage; nearly all photos of Soviet DC-3 show the same, apart M-132.

A similar plane during takeoff. The inscription 'Aeroflot' on the nose and -L 340? under the left wing are visible.

The pilot's door on the left side, just behind the windows, was a characteristic of DC-3s and all their derivatives.


Another similar plane of Aeroflot shows the inscription CCCP (= cyrillic SSSR) under the right wing, and a small red star outside it.




Drawing by Tapani Tuomanen






DC-3 MT-20, probably on the Ulan Bator airport.

The improvised camouflage is noteworthy: it looks made with dots of at least two colors (hypothetically light greenish khaki and very dark green) on amatural metal background.

The Douglas logo was still visible on the fin and on the nose sides.

Photo from: Khalkhin Gol: War in the Air, of Kondratiev

DC-3 MT-18 in flight on the route Chita - Ulaanbaatar. The photograph was taken through the window of another Douglas.

Photo from: Khalkhin Gol: War in the Air, of Kondratiev


A group of experienced Soviet pilots headed by Deputy Air Force Chief Yakov Smushkevich stayed in Mongolia in three camouflaged DC-3. The picture shows "Douglas" at the Ulaanbaatar airfield.

Photo from: Khalkhin Gol: War in the Air, of Kondratiev




Drawing by Tapani Tuomanen


DC-3 coded F-6 was utilized for transport purposes on the route Ulan Bator- Moscow during the Khalkhin-Gol war with Japaneses in 1939. Transport "Douglases" were used to transport wounded soldiers to the Union for treatment.

The plane received a fantasious camouflage that seems made of stripes of two colors (probably dark green and light khaki on a natural metal base) to hide it from eventual Japanese planes.

Image from Li-2 of Maslov


Batailles Aériennes n.50






What about Soviet DC-3 after the war outbreak? This image can suggest an answer: they were updated with turrets, cargo doors, drop fairings for radio compass, spinners, camouflage and other characteristics of military PS-84/Li-2, and became nearly undistinguishable.

This photo shows a plane with fairings with flat-top opening as those of DC-3, and the spinners have a rare nearly conical shape, different from the ogival one of usual Li-2s. These characteristics suggest that this plane could be a DC-3 modified to match a standard Li-2.

Image from the web



Li-2 of M.Maslov

Khalkhin Gol: War in the Air, of Kondratiev

Profiles n.096 - The Douglas DC-3

C-47 Skytrain, Squadron Signal in Action n.149

Douglas C-47, Aviakollectsia 10/2008

Aviakollectsia 3/2005, Li-2 transport plane, of Kotelnikov

Batailles Aériennes n.50






Disclaimer: this work collects a lot of photos and drawings from many sources, not always identified and mentioned.
If someone has rights on the images reproduced here, please don't feel hurted, email to me and I shall provide to remove or to credit them.