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ANT-6

Heavy bomber TB-3 (ANT-6)
The aircraft is a four-engine all-metal cantilever monoplane with fixed landing gear and corrugated skin. The development began in 1925. In 1930, ANT-6 prototype aircraft performed its first flight, and in 1932, the first production airplane took off the ground. The batch production continued until 1938, with 819 aircraft released in total in several versions, differing in engines (M-17, M -34 and their variants), armament and equipment. Its best versions with M-34RN engines had maximum speed within 270-380 km/h, service ceiling of about 7,000 m, with takeoff weight of more than 19 tons, and could carry 2,000 kg of bombs, fly up to 3,000 km and had defensive armament of 4 machine-guns ShKAS. Earlier versions with M-17 engines had significantly lower performance (this was the majority of the produced TB-3 version).

 

TB-3 (ANT-6)

Aircraft were primarily used as bombers, military transport and paratroop airplanes. The airplane was used in operations in China, at Khasan Lake, during Nomonhan Incident and occupation of Western Ukraine and Belarus, during the Winter War and the occupation of the Baltic States and Bessarabia. Units of TB-3 were the first in history that were able to solve strategic missions. It is TB-3 that was the basis for strategic bombers units in the Soviet Union for the first time in the world, that were intended for bombing territories of European countries and Japan. In the second half of the 30-ies, with the development of air defense and fighter airplanes, TB-3 outdated and gradually began to be discarded from service and partially transferred to CAF.

 

By June 22, 1941, Soviet Air Force had 516 TB-3s in the ranks, and another 25 belonged to naval aviation. TB-3s were located at the airfields relatively far from the western border, that’s why they avoided catastrophic losses from the first German air strikes. Amid large losses of other airplanes, TB-3s initially formed a significant part of bomber aviation. These slow-moving giants in the superiority of the German air force were very vulnerable during the day but quite successfully performed their functions at night. Already overnight into June 23, TB-3s from the 3rd Heavy bombers aviation regiment rained heavy bombs on enemy troops in areas of Seima, Sopotskin, Radin and Vengrov. The next day, TB-3s from the 1st and 3rd TBAP hammered the airfields in Suwalki, Mozhedov, Bela-Podlyask and Ostrołęka with cluster bombs. However, the critical situation at the front forced to use these airplanes for striking German columns during the day. Basically, TB-3s flew to the target without fighter cover and bombed targets from low and medium altitudes, which resulted in heavy losses. For example, in the afternoon on June 26, three TB-3s from the 1st TBAP tried to bomb the crossing of the Berezina river, but were shot down by messerschmitts (the episode was precisely reproduced in the film "The Living and the Dead" based on the similarly-named novel by Konstantin Simonov), however, the same night TB-3s completed another task without loss. Gradually, military commanders completely switched TB-3s to the night actions, so they bombed the communications near Minsk, Mogilev, Galich and Smolensk. In the night into July 12, the 1st and 3rd TBAP attacked rear German airfields, inflicting heavy losses on the German bombers. Efficiency and intensity of combat operations for the airplanes of this class was high enough (sometimes there were up to three successful sorties during the night) due to the high level of pre-war crews (after all, that was the elite of the Red Army Air Force) and relatively good invulnerability of TB-3. Despite the loss due to TB-3 transfer from the rear areas, the number of the airplanes at the front was relatively large: by July 22, there were 51 TB-3s operating, and by August 22 – already 127. They made up a quarter of the long-range bombers fleet operating at the front (four of the six long-range bombers aviation divisions flew TB-3).

 

 

TB-3 (ANT-6)

At the same time Black Sea Fleet began to use their TB-3s as composite dive bomber. Works on fighter-carrying aircraft under "Zveno" project based on TB-1 and TB-3 were conducted in the Soviet Union before the war for several years and by the beginning of the war it became possible to convert a small number of TB-3s to dive bombers, carrying modified I-16 fighters (one TB-3 with two I-16 under the wing). On August 1, two TB-3s, each carrying two I-16s suspended under the wing, started out for the raid on Constantsa. When it was 40 km from the target I-16s separated from the carriers and each dropped two 250 kg bombs to the oil storage tanks, and then went lossless to the base near Odessa. In total, all operations involved 6 TB-3 and 12 I-16. The most famous operation became raids on well protected Chernovodskiy Bridge on August 11 and 13 - as a result of them, a pipeline was broken and the bridge supports were damaged. There were a few more successful attacks. After the arrival of the Germans to Perekop, SPB were switched to attacks of the nearest tactical targets, and in the autumn of 1942, all operations of the remaining "links" were stopped due to too high vulnerability of aircraft carriers.

 

 

TB-3 (ANT-6)

In addition to the bombing raids, TB-3s played an important role as a transport aircraft. At night they air dropped reconnaissance and sabotage units, and supplied the Red Army units, surrounded by enemies. Within the first five months of 1941 2,797 tons of cargo and 2,300 people were transferred to the Western Front. During the combat actions at Orel, units of the 5th corps of Airborne Forces were transferred there from Yaroslavl by TB-3 and G-2 (unarmed TB-3 of CAF) and were thrown into battle with the Germans rushing forward. During “Vyazma catastrophy” in October 1941, TB-3s were methodically supplying surrounded units with food, fuel and ammunition, which allowed perishing forces continue to resist, thereby chaining German units to them and giving the command of the Red Army to win days and hours for the organization of defense of Moscow that were of great importance. TB-3s supplied the besieged Leningrad and also took evacuees from there. TB-3s took an active part in the Battle of Moscow, night bombing German mobile mechanical divisions and their rears. Loss of TB-3s continued to be replenished by TB-3s coming from the rear (including the airplanes released in the first years), which allowed to maintain the combat capability of the units flying these bombers. In January 1942, TB-3s were used for landing of troops when the Soviet forces were attacking Germans units near Moscow. In total, two battalions and one regiment were air dropped near Viyazma. Since the establishment of Long Range Aviation in 1942, most of the remaining TB-3s were included in it. During 1942 TB-3s were used as a part of Long Range Aviation for transport, landing of troops and bomb attacks. TB-3s dropped supplies for troops ringed under Demiyansk, supplied main division of General Belov located in the rear of the Germans near Viyazma in the summer of 1942. TB-3s bombed railway junction in Briyansk with FAB-2000 bombs, as well as crossings of river Don and the German troops on the outskirts of the city during the Battle of Stalingrad. In the summer of 1943, TB-3s participated in the Battle of Kursk attacking the German armored units. At the end of September 1943, TB-3s took part in a mass parachute assault on Bukrin bridgehead near Kiev. The operation was planned in haste by order of Zhukov and was intended to relieve the German pressure on the troops landed on the bridgehead. As a result, the airplanes were over the accumulation of German troops who opened heavy fire at low-flying aircraft from all kinds of weapons, from machine guns and rifles to anti-aircraft guns. The result of the operation was large losses of aircraft and paratroopers (among 7,000 paratroopers only 2,300 soldiers and officers went to partisans and continued to fight, and the rest were killed or captured by the Germans).

In the same 1943, TB-3s began to be gradually withdrawn to the rear units, where they continued to be used as transport and training. Yet, by July 1, 1945, 20 TB-3s were still a part of combat units of the 18th Air Army (Long Range Aviation).
At the beginning of the war, the Civil Air Fleet had 45 cargo G-2s, and with the beginning of the war they were joined by several ANT-6A of Polar aviation. In 1941 and 1942, these airplanes performed transport and landing operations with TB-3s at the combatant zone. G-2s, left at the rear, were used for cargo and even for passenger transport.
TB-3 happened to be a "Soldier of 1941" - these airplanes and their crews did their duty in the most difficult time for the country. That’s why, on August 18, 1945, at the first post-war air parade three TB-3s were done an honor to fly at the parade column with modern airplanes.