Soviet SBs during Barbarossa:

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Updated on February 22, 2018

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Operation Barbarossa, the German attack to the Soviet Union, began at the dawn of 22 July 1941 on a long front, from the Baltic Sea to the Carpathian Mountains.

The attack caught the Soviet forces completely unprepared, because Stalin refused to believe to reports from his spies and avoided any preparative that could have been seen as a provocation by Germans; besides his political persecutions had hit many experienced officers, particularly those that took part to the Spanish Civil War. Besides, many of the new airfields in the recently conquered European countries were located close to the German-held territory, likely in prevision of a future attack to Germany. Of a total of 21.000 combat planes, 10000 were located on the West front.

At the end of the first day of war, Soviet forces lost 1811 planes, of which 322 in air combats, versus 61 German and 11 Romanian planes lost. Soviet units of the Western Special Military District suffered the worst losses.

In the second day, Soviet lost 755 planes, on the third 557, on the fourth, 251; by July 1, a total of 4725 planes, of which 3221 on the ground; by the end of September, a total of14500, 5000 of which in the air.

A large part of the planes lost in combat were bombers as SB and DB-3, an easy prey for German fighters also because they often flew without any escort due to the bad coordination of Soviet commands. Besides, Soviet bombers typically flew in line, with each plane slightly lower than the previous one to see when the commander's one drop its bombs; so, each plane was not visible from the previous one. Besides, the ventral hatch had a machine gun, but it was difficult to use and the rear gunner usually observed around in the upper turret. When German fighter pilots noticed this, they started to attack the last plane of the line from below, arriving unseen and shooting it down; then continued their surprise attacks on the last of the remaining ones and so on. The lack of adequate radio equipment of many Soviet planes helped German pilots to obtain surprise against a vast part of the line.

The destruction of bombers was so heavy that many types of Soviet bombers built before the war, as Yak-2, Yak-4, Ar-2 were nearly extinct by the end of 1941, and even the main types, as SB add DB-3, were no longer common.

Due to the rapid German advance, Soviet AF was forced to leave a big number of nearly intact planes, some of which were sold to Finland and other allies of the Germans.


The number of planes, of variants, of photos and liveries involved in the time frame of Operation Barbarossa is very wide; repaintings and refittings make the matter even more complex.

Let's try a classification:




SB-2M-100, M-100A and M-103 with the AE-8 aluminum prewar livery.

The red stars with thin black outline were painted on the fuselage sides, above and below the wings for a total of six.

Individual numbers were usually of one digit, rarely of two, because the numeration was repeated for each squadron of a regiment; different squadrons were distinguishable for the different colors of numbers, and sometimes for variations of regimental emblems as caps on the tail.

These planes were built in 1937, 1938 and the most part of 1939, and were characterized by the flat front of the engine cowling.

SB-2 M-100, built in 1937 and early 1938, were painted light grey, but this paint was prone to peel off, so all the still serviceable ones had already been repainted in other ways in 1941.

The AE-8 aluminum livery was introduced in 1938, probably because the underlying aluminum alloy was less visible thorough peeled off areas; then the problem of massive chipping was resolved by the use of ALG-1 yellow zinc chromate primer under the final silver paint.


It is very difficult to be sure about the engine inside the flat cowling because it is not distinguishable from outside

Planes with M-100 were usually characterized by two-blades propellers, but they were rare at the time of Barbarossa, probably because the most part of them were sold to foreign customers as Republic of Spain, Czechoslovakia and China.

The most part of the planes we see in photos of 1941, engined with M-100A or M-103, had three blades propellers.

The prop blades were typically painted aluminum (or left unpainted) on their front face, while the rear face was partially painted black (excluding the part closer to the spinner).

The engine M-103 was introduced into production SB at the beginning of 1938. This type introduced some further improvements: fitting of a bomb rack under each wing inside the nacelles, each capable to bring a 500 kg bomb, an auxiliary tank or a gas dispenser; a mirror atop the pilot's windscreen, that was higher.

They were originally built with an open dorsal turret TUR-9 closed by a sliding hood, but a large part of the planes were updated in 1940/41 with an MV-3 ball-like closed turret.

Sometimes the update included the MV-2 ventral turret instead of the simple mg support firing from the ventral hatch, typical of many Soviet bombers and highly ineffective.

The conversion to the ball-like turret could have left the skinning of the fuselage back unchanged, still with wide spaces between the turret and fuselage and with the rails of the sliding hood visible, as we see on the drawing aside; on other SBs, the work involved the removing of the rails and the closure of these spaces with shaped sheet, giving a more refined surface.





The SB with M-103U and M-103A engines were characterized by a tunnel cooler located under the engines.

The planes produced in late 1939 had the air inlet controlled by a movable plate that could close completely the inlet, and introduced a landing light on the left wing leading edge; the pilot's mirrors were positioned on the sides of the sliding hood instead of the top of the windscreen;

planes produced in 1940 in the first half of 1940 introduced a fixed air inlet;

planes built in the second half of 1940 featured a recess under the cowling for the retractable ski landing gear.

All these planes could feature both the old-fashioned TUR-9 turret, both the ball MV-3 turret, that appears to have ben refitted on many already built ones.

The SB with the improved M-104 engine were put in production in March-April 1940 at Factory n.22, namely Series 201. 53 planes were built; they were exteriorly undistinguishable from contemporaries SB 2M-103.

The prewar painting of these planes was uniform gloss light grey AE-9; about markings, propellers and the later updates of the turrets, they were as the silver flat-cowlings SB.


(LATE SB-2M103)




The combat planes built between June 1940 and July 1941 conformed to a new standard, with gloss grass green A-19f uppersurfaces and gloss light blue A-18f undersurfaces.


The prop blades continued to be left unpainted on their front face, with the rear face partially painted black.

The profile represents an SB-2M103 of late production; probably the MV-3 was installed in factory, while the ventral MV-2 was a refitting.

The upper view shows the typical red stars over the wings, that ere standard before the war's outbreak.



Part of the existing planes had to be repainted in green on their uppersurfaces, sometimes leaving the undersurfaces of the previous color, grey or silver.


About 150 up-engined SB-2M105 were built in Factory n.22, in parallel with M-103 engined ones, from September 1940 up to the early 1941 when the production of SB was stopped in favor of its successor Ar-2.

SB-2M105 was easily distinguishable because of the raised central frame of the hood that altered its profile; besides the windshield is divided into a frontal and two front-side panels, instead of into two panels with central frame (razor-shaped) as on all previous SB.

All these planes went out of factory with the standard green-blue livery of that time frame.




In early June 1941, many SB were still preserving their silver or light grey livery.

An attempt to create a new directive to camouflage planes in may 1941had failed due to its excessive complexity.

So, an order of mid June 1941 ordered to hurrily camouflage silver and light grey bombers with blotches or strokes of green paint, sometimes with black or other colors.

This led to a variety of amazing improvised liveries.

The red stars on the upper surfaces of wings were often preserved.

Similar liveries had already been utilized in the Nomothan accident, when the Soviet Union fought a brief, intense undeclared war against Japanese forces between 11 May and 15 September 1939.

So, it could be that some units had preserved the camouflage utilized at that time.



Other non-standard camouflages were made on the base of the green-light blue livery.

Sometimes, these camouflages included a very light shade that could be light grey; if the relative photos could be dated early 1942, those could be considered as winter camouflages.



A new directive for the camouflage of military planes reached the units on 21 June 1941, but the most of them had more urgent things to deal with than repainting planes.

Anyway a part of the planes survived to the first weeks of war were partially repainted according to the new directives: black and green camouflage, red stars on the fuselage sides, on the tail and below the wings; so, the red stars over the wings were often deleted with green or black.

The original green A-19f and light blue A-18f were often preserved, and the adaptation to the new standard was limited to overposing black bands over the previous livery.





A limited number of SB survived up to the winter 1941/42 and received some form of winter camouflage.

This could have been done by overposing washable white distemper to the previous painting, whatever it was.




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