Soviet SB during the Winter War

Updated on Januay 4, 2018

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The Winter War was a conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1939–1940. It started on 30 November 1939 and it ended with the signing of the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940.




The Soviet Union enjoyed air superiority throughout the war. The Soviet Air Force supported the Red Army's invasion with about 2,500 aircraft of the Soviet Air Forces.

The Kremlin plans had allocated important tasks to the Red Air Force: to crush the Finnish defence will and ability by massive bombings of strategic objectives in the rear, and to simultaneously support the Red Army on the battlefield.

However the VVS was not as effective as the Soviets might have hoped. The material damage by bomber attacks was slight, as Finland did not offer many valuable targets for strategic bombing. Targets were often small village depots of small value. Finland had only a few modern highways, so the railway systems were the main target for bombers. The rail tracks were cut thousands of times but were easily repaired, and the Finns usually had trains running in a matter of hours.

The damage inflicted on Finnish targets was also diminished by poor navigation technique and minimal bombing accuracy on the part of the Soviets, and Finnish casualties were reduced by effective air-raid precautions.



However the Soviet air force learned from its early mistakes, and by late February they instituted more effective tactics. One such success was the strike against the Ruokolahti airfield on 29 February 1940. At noon on that day 40 I-16 and I-153 fighters struck the base, destroying three aircraft on the ground and another three (two Gladiators and one Fokker) for the loss of only one I-16. However these successes were few and far between: Soviet losses remained high due to the Finnish Air Forces aggressive guerilla tactics. The Soviet Air Force also lost many aircraft to bad weather and to equipment failure.

Finland's capital city, Helsinki, was bombed on the first day of the war; a number of buildings were destroyed and some 200 people were killed. However the city was the target of raids only a few times thereafter.


At that time, the most common Soviet bomber was the SB.

During the Spanish Civil War in 1936-39 SB was a fast and well armed bomber, but in 1939-40 it started to be obsolete.

At the war's outbreak, many units fitted their SBs with skis for operation from snow covered airfields, slowing the aircraft and making them more vulnerable, while the need to wear heavy winter clothing made the gunner's job even harder.

December 1939 was a snowy month and both sides lost many crews on snowstorms, more than for enemy actions.

The VVS lost at least five planes and crews (4 DB-3 of 1DB/5 OSAP and an I-15 bis) only on 30 November 1939 during snowstorms.



this photo shows an SB with unretractable ski gear. Note that the wheel bays are completely closed.

Other SBs had semi-retractable ski gears that caused less increase in drag.



Finnish planes weren't more modern at that time; the main opponent of Soviet planes was the Fokker D.XXI, built in Holland and, under license, in Finland too. It can hardly be considered more advanced than an I-16.

Despite this, Finnish pilots inflicted heavy losses to Soviet planes utilizing much better war techniques and an highly aggressive attitude.

At the end of 15 weeks of war, Finns claimed to have shot down nearly 200 SB, 92 of which due to their fighters. This claim seems to be exaggerate, but more than 100 SB were lost; apart for the action of Finnish AA defence and fighters, many of them were lost due to bad weather conditions of the winter.

Finnish Military Effectiveness in the Winter War, 1939-1940



photo of a SB, probably during the winter war.

The ski gear strangely co-exists with the usual doors for the wheeled gear; it is not clear if this landing gear could have been raised without interference with the doors, probably not.

Another unusual characteristic pf this plane is the conical spinner; usually they were ogival.

Two compressed air bottles are visible on the snowy ground, utilized to reload the internal bottles of the plane.



photo of a SB of unidentified unit during the Winter War. The plane shows the usual aluminum finish, while the engine cowlings fronts seem painted white. An identification band of unknown color was painted on each wing.

During the winter war, the VVS introduced the use of thin bands painted around the wings and/or the fuselage; according to photographc records, the use of these bands was irregular. In some cases, they are thought to be black, but this is not clearly the case of the plane of this photo.

Many Soviet SBAP (Air Regiments of Fast Bombers) had colorful tail decorations and numbers for a fast identification of the regiment and, eventually, of the squadron inside the regiment. In some cases the colors are known from reports; in other cases they can be merely guessed from photos. Some informations on the markings of these units come from photos of Operation Barbarossa in summer 1941.



2 SBAP was composed of six squadrons; all of them utilized different combinations of colors on the caps and bort numbers. The starlets are supposed to be always red.

Note that all known photos show that the regiment was equipped with recent SB with pointed engine cowls and light grey (AE-9) finish instead of flat-front cowlings with silver finish, more common on onther units during the Winter War.

Plane 1 from 3rd Squadron, flown by P.G. Ovtsharenko; the color of the number and cap is not known, it could be red.

Plane 3 from 2nd squadron,could be blue as it appears on many profiles; it is clearly not the same color of the supposedly red starlet.

Plane 5 of 4th Squadron was flown by V.G.Glazunov; the cap and number seems of the same color of the starlet, supposedly red.

Plane 6 (s/n 6/222) flown by Lt. N.V. Vasilyev seems to show a dark number, possibly black.



profile of plane red (?) 5 of 4th Squadron of 2 SBAP, piloted by V.G. Glazunov. The plane was of late production, with fixed-inlet tunnel coolers, probably painted light grey AE-9 overall.




two photos of blue 4 (s/n 11/220) of 3 squadron of 24 SBAP; the plane made a forced landing on 1 December 1939 in Sanio, after having been hit by AA fire while bombing the Viipuri railway station.

St.Lt. I.K.Yegorov and Ya.V.Yegorov were captured, while the rear gunner P.I.Petrov was killed.

The plane featured tunnel-type coolers with shutters on the intakes and was painted in light grey AE-9 overall.

It was recovered by Finns and became VP-10, later VP-1 and SB-1 in Finnish service.

The stripes on the tail are supposed to be blue as the number; it seems to see a lighter part on the top of the rudder, but its contour is not straight and could be a simple retouch of the supposedly blue paint.



Below: color 3 views of plane 4. They show the typical look of SB tunnel-coolers, finished with glossy light grey AE-9.







plane 2 was of another squadron of 24 SBAP; the colors of caps and number changed indicating the squadrons inside 24 SBAP. Here, the colors could be red and yellow.

Number 2 is overposed to a previous n.11, cancelled by the use of another shade of silver paint.







profile of plane 2, with the aluminum finish that was more usual for flat-emgined SBs.



Remains of two Soviet bombers were shown to the international press, aside some captured ground equipments.

The closer plane is green 5; the plane in the background is yellow 4.

Them both are SB with flat coolers and aluminum finish.

Plane green 5 (s/n 16/69) of 2nd squadron of 24 SBAP, was flown by pilot Cherenkov, navigator Pushmenkov and gunner Novozhenin.

t was shot down by anti-aircraft fire near Lake Kononi-Jarvi.

The use of a camouflage color as dark green for recognition markings is noteworthy.

Yellow 4 belonged to 5 sqn of 24 SBAP, flown by pilot Prochev.

It was shot down by Finnish fighters on 21 December 1939 when attacking the airport of Immola.



Below: profiles of green 5 and Yellow 4.





Red 4 was characterized by tunnel coolers with movable shutters on their inlets, and probably a light grey livery, as usual on this variant of the SB. The retractable skis were different from those of red 8: they were kept in position by two tubes containing springs, hinged on the sides of each engine cowling; no wiring on their rear part.


Below: profile of Red 4.




2 photos of plane red (?) 2 of 35 SBAP.

The date of the photos is uncertain; it could be early december 1939, because there was not snow south of Helsinki in those days; other sources say March 1940, but the ground should have been snowy on those days.

The decoration on the tail is supposed to be red witha white oblique line and a thin yellow outline; the number is supposed red. The overall color looks aluminum on all, or nearly all, the flat-engines SB employed in this war.



Below: profle of red 2 of 35 SBAP.



inflight photo of plane 11 of 35 SBAP. From the photo, one could suspect some further fast recognition mark on the upper-inner side of the engine cowls.


Yellow 8 of 3 Squadron of 35 SBAP was the first plane shot down in the Winter war. The plane crashed in Helinki suburbs after having been hit by AA fire.


inflight photo of a plane of the same unit (not necessarily plane 8) over Helsinki. Again, some dark painting on the engine cowlings is suspectable.


profile of yellow 8.






two images of yellow nine. It belonged to 2nd squadron of 41 SBAP.

It made a belly landing at Imatra on 1 December 1939, after having been hit by the Fokker D.XXI flown by the 1st Lt.Lussi Räty (FR-115) of 4/LLv 24.

Two crew, Lt Zhorka Tanklayev (pilot) and 1 Lt Vikto Demchinsckiy (navigator), were captured. The third crew, Cpl Sergei Korotkov, was killed.

The aircraft was repaired by VL and later used by Ilmavoimat.








3 views of Yellow 9 of 41 SBAP.

The plane was finished with aluminum paint.

The drawing puts into evidence the standard position of national insignas before the outbreak of the Great Patrioctic War.





Another plane of 41 SBAP, red 12. The plane is finished in aluminum paint, but a space around the numbers is painted with a different shade of aluminum, reflecting in different way.

It's not clear if the dark area on the top of the rudder is a recognition mark, dirt or what else.




Below: profile of red 12.




Squadron 5 of 44 SBAP lost many planes, parly because of bad weather.

A blue 3, s/n 19/136, was destroyed on 26 December 1939.

Another blue 3 s/n 2/92, on 10 January 1940.

Another aircraft, s/n 17/94, was lost on later date.

Two SBs were lost on 30 January 1940.



Blue 3 of 5/44SBAP, s/ 2/92, crashed at Dudergof, causing the death of navigator St.Lt. A.I. Apanosovich.


Two torches are protrudung under the right wing.

Aside :

another image of blue 3 s/n 2/92 of Squadron 5 of 44 SBAP after the crash.

The plane shows red decorations on the fin, stabilizer and elevator, and black stripes on the wings.

Probably the number of red 'teeth' on the fin is indicative of the number of the squadron.



Below: profile of the same plane.



Plane blue 10 of 44 SBAP, with the same decorations of the planes above.


Plane red 8 ( or black 8?) of Squadron 1 of 44 SBAP was provided with skis; the red decoration on the fin and rudder are evident, but it seems to have a red tip on the stabilizers and elevators too, and perhaps a red leading ege of the stabilizators.

Skis are of non-retractable type, as often seen on flat-engined SBs.

Two torches are visible under the right wing.



profile of plane red 8.



photo of SB blue (?) 7 , s/n 13/98, after a take-off accident on the Soviet airport of Sestroretsk on 18 February 1940.

It is likely that the plane was equipped with non-retractable ski gear and torches as the one of the photo below.


Plane s/n 11/77 of 1 Squadron of 48 SBAP, belly landed on 25 February 1940 on the Soviet airport of Sestroretsk.

The plane is a flat-engined one with aluminium finish, fixed ski gear and a small red star on the tail, apparently without any bort number.

The small windshield in front of the gunner's position is unusual and noteworthy.

One can also recognize torches under the right wing.

Below: profile of plane 11/77.



a plane captured nearly intact by Finnish soldiers after a forced landing.

The plane loos sustained by struts under the engine nacelles, probably with the aim to allow the extraction of the landing gear.

The plane was certainly restored and put into service with the Finnish Ilmavoimat.



Red Star 7, Winter War In The Air, aut. Geusts ed. Apali

Red stars 5, Baltic Fleet Airforce in Winter War, aut. Geust, Tirkeltaub, Petrov, ed Apali

Nearly all photos are from these books.

Profiles in many Russian magazines, as Mir Aviatsii, have ben taken into account, as well as the instructions of the Authentic Decals sheet.

Aleksandr Ruckovsky, researcher of the Authentic decals sheet, has helped with his suggestions.



Images from books and from the net were utilized without the intention of damage the rights of the owners or to have an economic gain for the authors of this page, but only to demonstrate that the drawings of Tapani Tuomanen on these subjects, present and future, are historically accurate.

Should this be unacceptable for them, or for other authors, we apologize and we eventually provide to remove the photos.