IL-2-37 - The Sturmovik Tankbuster
By 1943 the Ilyushin Il-2 formed the main striking power of the Soviet Air Force, comprising almost one third of its combat strength. Tanks were a tough nut for the Shturmovik to crack though; bombs had to be placed very precisely, the 20mm ShVAK cannon of early aircraft were ineffective against armour and the 23mm VYa cannon could penetrate only light armour. A more powerful gun was needed against the increasingly heavy German tanks being fielded.
Combat trials with Il-2s equipped with the 37mm ShFK cannons started in early 1943, but the guns proved unreliable and so the Nudelman/Suranov NS-37 cannon was selected instead for tank busting. With the cannon mounted under the wings, the Il-2-37 could not carry rockets, and the bomb load was reduced to just 200kg.
The NS-37 cannon is a very potent weapon in War Thunder against both air or ground targets and the generous 50 rounds each give the Il-2-37 plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc. Soft targets and light tanks are easily destroyed, whilst the weaker side and rear armour of medium tanks can be targeted, but heavy tanks and pillboxes are mostly resistant to cannon attack. Top armour is usually weak and can be hit in a steep diving attack, but don’t forget to leave enough altitude to safely pull out. The cannon has little effect on destroyers and larger ships but performs admirably against patrol boats. The Il-2-37 will undoubtedly be a useful asset in Naval forces combat.
Fire single shots, or at most short bursts, as pilots found the heavy recoil produced by the cannons made it difficult to hold them on target for a long burst. Because the guns are wing mounted, convergence (guns targeting distance) is important: set it to your preferred range (300-400m works well) and try and fire around that distance.
Once the offensive 37mm belts upgrade is unlocked then load the Armored Targets belt for pure armour piercing ammunition. Until then the default belt is a 50/50 mix of AP and HE shells so at least two shots are needed against armoured targets as HE shells are ineffective. The heavy cannons make the Il-2-37 significantly less agile than other Il-2 variants. Once the engine and fuel upgrades are unlocked, it handles marginally better, but you will always be vulnerable to higher performance fighters.
PROS AND CONS OF THE VEHICLE:
Your rear gunner offers a little defensive protection, at the very least giving a warning of approaching opponents. You can try a favoured technique of actual Il-2 pilots: slowing down and manoeuvring to force the enemy to overshoot, then hitting them with a burst of cannon fire as they go past. In general though, try and avoid enemy fighters, don’t just head straight for enemy lines at top speed. In a pinch the Il-2-37 works as a reasonable bomber hunter, the cannons will make a mess out of even the heaviest bombers, but its performance is less than ideal for catching them especially at high altitude. If you end up in a game with no ground targets, such as Air Domination, then you will want to use the Air Targets belt, otherwise ground targets should always be your priority.
A new weapon had been introduced just before the Il-2-37 made its operational debut: the PTAB shaped charge bomblet. Standard Il-2s could carry hundreds of bomblets in their bomb racks to saturate an area giving a high chance of hitting tanks, whereas the 37mm cannon required precise aiming and usually several passes to hit their targets. The combination of PTAB bomblets for tanks and the 23mm cannon for soft targets became the preferred Il-2 armament, and production of the Il-2-37 stopped at the end of 1943 after around 1000 had been built.
Author: John “Zoso” Moore
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