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How Russia's 'Flying' Aircraft Carriers Fought Nazi Germany During World War II

Sebastien Roblin

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Eurasia

A battle over the Black Sea.

How Russia's 'Flying' Aircraft Carriers Fought Nazi Germany During World War II

Early in the morning of August 10, 1941, three boxy Soviet TB-3 bombers took off from the airbase at Yevpatoria in the Crimean Peninsula, bearing a most unusual cargo under their gargantuan wings: two manned, stubby-nosed I-16 fighter planes, their Shvetsov radial engines chortling and propellers spinning to help propel the sluggish four-engine TB-3s they were attached to.

One of the aircraft-carrying motherships had to abort mission due to technical problems. The six remaining aircraft assumed an eastward course across the Black Sea towards the Romanian city of Constanta roughly 250 miles away, cruising at roughly 155 miles per hour.

Six weeks earlier, Romanian troops had joined Nazi Germany in a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union that had steamrolled unprepared border defenses. As Axis forces steadily advanced towards the critical Soviet ports of Odessa and Sevastopol, the beleaguered Soviet Air Force and Navy did their best to strike back. One key target was the King Carol I bridge spanning the River Danube, which measured over a miles long and up to seventy meters high, and also stood over a vital pipeline connected to the Ploesti oil fields.

Soviet DB-3 bomber had repeatedly attacked the bridge with high-altitude horizontal bombing runs without landing any hits. The older, slower TB-3s themselves would likely have fared little better had they tried.

But these special TB-3s, called Sveno (“Link”)-SPBs, were not carrying any bombs at all. Instead, the I-16 Type 24 fighters braced under the bomber’s wings each carried two 250-kilogram bombs.

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