Red Star Volume#6:Polikarpov's Biplane Fighters

by Yefim Gordon and Keith Dexter

reviewed by Paul Mahoney


This 200 page, soft-cover book in A4 format is published on high-quality, glossy stock. It covers all of the biplane aircraft designed by Nicolai Polikarpov during the 1930s in the USSR. Polikarpov was called the 'King of Fighters' in the Soviet Union, and his designs dominated Soviet aircraft production during the pre-WW2 era.

Similar to the Polikarpov I-16 book from the same publishers, this volume covers quite a bit of the intrigue present in the aircraft industry (like everywhere else) in the USSR of the 1930s. Polikarpov was sentenced to prison for a number of years on some political charges, and basically ended up securing his release through his innovative aircraft design. The authors go into some detail discussing the structure of the Soviet aircraft industry of the time, and give some good background prior to moving on to a discussion of the actual designs.

One of the features I like about the Red Star series is the prolific use of ½-page size pictures. This volume is no exception, and is loaded with large, clear, black and white photos throughout.

Each of the major designs is covered in depth, from development to operations. In addition, each of the minor subtypes, and prototypes, and experimental modifications are also discussed. The I-3 is first up, along with all it's various offshoots.

Following this is the I-5, which is the predecessor of the famous I-15, I-152, and I-153 series. The rest of this series follows in quick succession. There are pages and pages of photos, line drawings, and in depth text discussing the differences in all of these. There is also a detailed discussion of the combat operations in the Manchukuo-Mongolian War with Japan, the Spanish Civil War, the various wars with Finland, and of course World War 2. One-Third of all Soviet AF front-line fighters were I-153s at the time of the German invasion in 1941.

This book does an admirable job of balancing the text with background information, technical descriptions, and combat narratives. It is interesting to note the flip-flop the Soviet leadership made regarding the 'gull' wing. Polikarpov first incorporated this in the I-15. The upper wings of the I-5 biplane were split in the center and angled down into the upper fuselage on the I-15, giving the pilot unlimited forward view. This somewhat unorthodox design was deemed unnecessary by the politicians, so the I-152 reversed all this and was again a standard biplane. Subsequently, it was deemed a valuable asset and reinstated on the I-153. In this same manner, the authors give a good account of the debate over whether biplanes or monoplanes are better fighter designs. Since no decision could be reached, both the I-16 monoplane and the I-15 series biplanes were produced simultaneously!

In addition to photos and text describing the various biplanes' use with the Soviet AF, coverage is also given to use in foreign Air Forces. Spain made heavy use of the aircraft, first on the Republican side during the Civil War, and some of these remained in service with the Spanish until the late 1940s. China purchased several I-153s, and their use is documented here. The Finns also put to use Polikarpov biplanes that were captured during the wars with the USSR.

There is also brief coverage of the remaining examples of Polikarpov biplanes. The authors clearly have modelers in mind, as they mention that the only truly original example of a I-153 remains in France, yet the French model company Heller was unable to produce an accurate model of this aircraft!

The final pages of the book contain eight pages of line drawings, covering all the types discussed in the book, and another fifteen pages of color profiles.

Bottom line: another EXCELLENT book from Midland in their Red Star series. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the 1930s Soviet Air Force. Having just read of the impending release of several 1/48 scale resin models of early Polikarpov fighters by the Russian company REST, I am motivated to try building a few!



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