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Weapons of World War Two

The Liberation of Leningrad (Jan 1944)

Tupolev TB 3

Tupolev TB 3

In 1925, the Soviet military authorities decided to request from the industry a bomber aircraft of notably advanced characteristics for its time. For example, it was requested that the aircraft were capable of carrying 5000 kilograms of bombs and that it were armed in such a way that it could fly without a fighter aircraft escort. Logically, also the operational range should be a notable one. If considering that the Soviet aviation was in a full phase of reorganization and that the industry had not yet fully recovered from the hard hits received during the civil war, it is easy to understand the difficulties that designers and technicians faced. Because of this the project was directly assigned to Andrei Nikolaievich Tupolev, an engineer who had already achieved prestige with his creations and who seemed to be particularly inclined toward large aircraft. Indeed, Tupolev would always live up to the level of his fame by designing a family of "giants of the air" which would range from the ANT 14 of 1931, a five-engine transport aircraft, to the modern multi-turbojet bomber aircraft built during the 1960s. The realization of his project, given the difficulties which Russia was suffering, required a certain amount of time, and the prototype could not be built by using components of national production only (for example, Curtiss engines of American manufacture were initially used and later replaced by the BMW produced in Russia under license). Finally, the first ANT 6 (first denomination of the TB 3) could fly the 22nd December 1930. Due to its optimal characteristics the aircraft was promptly accepted, and the serial production was started as soon as possible. Indeed, the TB 3 was, for the time in which it was devised and built, an excellent aircraft. For its realization, Tupolev was inspired by some projects that the German were elaborating in the Junkers workshops located near Moscow after a German-Soviet agreement. Traces of this relationship with Junkers can be found in many details of the aircraft, and the corrugated sheet coating is perhaps the most notorious one. The TB 3 was a gigantic four-engine aircraft of almost 40 meters in wingspan, of low wing and entirely metallic construction, with a fixed landing gear and an open cockpit of old style. The defensive armament, which originally comprised ten 7.62-millimeter machine guns in five positions, was later reduced to six and finally to three machine guns, being adopted in this version three positions only (as in the exemplar depicted in the illustration). The exceptionally robust structure of the aircraft was an easy one for maintenance, and it even allowed the crewmen to go from the fuselage to the interior of the wings during flight, to be able to effectuate controls or small repairs even in the outer engines. As years passed the design of the TB 3 became logically outdated and in several occasions it was attempted to modernize it, but at the outbreak of the war it was irremediably outmatched. However, in the first days of the war these aircraft effectuated a few night bombings over Berlin, being later wisely relegated to the role of transporting materials and paratroopers, on which they operated during the war. As a curiosity it is worth of mention that an "aircraft carrier" version of the TB 3 was elaborated as well, which was capable of transporting up to five fighter aircraft (two I 15 biplanes over the wings and three I 16 monoplanes, two under the wings and one under the landing gear). But during the war some TB 3 transported two SPB (I 16 adapted to dive bombing) under the wings to the vicinity of the target. When arriving there the aircraft were detached, and once the bombing had been effectuated they regained altitude and returned to their base while escorting the "mother aircraft". With a version of this type, the operational life of this undoubtedly well designed aircraft in the frontline ended in August 1941.

Tupolev TB 3
Designer: Engineer Andrei Nikolaievich Tupolev

First flight: 22 December 1930

Wingspan: 39.50 meters (Model 1932); 40.50 meters (Model 1934 and Model 1935)

Wing area: 250 square meters

Length: 24.40 meters (Model 1932); 25.20 meters (Model 1934 and Model 1935)

Height: 8.45 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 18000/10000 kilograms (Model 1932); 17500/ kilograms (Model 1934); 15180/ kilograms (Model 1935)

Payload/Crew: 8000 kilograms/7 (Model 1932); /5 (Model 1934); /5 (Model 1935)

Engines: Four Mikulin AM 17F of 680 horsepower (Model 1932); four Mikulin AM 34R of 830 horsepower (Model 1934); four Mikulin AM 34RN of 1050 horsepower (Model 1935)

Cruising speed: 160 kilometers/hour (Model 1932); 200 kilometers/hour (Model 1934); 257 kilometers/hour (Model 1935)

Maximum speed: 230 kilometers/hour (Model 1932); 250 kilometers/hour (Model 1934); 320 kilometers/hour (Model 1935)

Service ceiling: 3800 meters (Model 1932); 5000 meters (Model 1934); 10000 meters (Model 1935)

Defensive armament: Ten Degtyarev 7.62-millimeter machine guns (Model 1932); six Degtyarev 7.62-millimeter machine guns (Model 1934); three ShKAS 7.62-millimeter machine guns (Model 1935)

Drop armament: 1500 kilograms of bombs (Model 1932); 1000 kilograms of bombs (a) (Model 1934); 1500 kilograms of bombs (a) (Model 1935)

Operational range: 2000 kilometers (Model 1932 and Model 1934); 1680 kilometers (Model 1935)

(a) With possibility of overload for short travels

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