Soviet Military Technology

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

The Soviets did not wait until the Cold War to start copying western military technologies. For instance, the Tupolev Tu-4 bomber was a Boeing B-29 Superfortress — to the best of their ability to copy it:

On three occasions during 1944, individual B-29s made emergency landings in Soviet territory after bombing raids on Japanese Manchuria and Japan. In accordance with Soviet neutrality in the Pacific War, the bombers were interned and kept by the Soviets, despite American requests for their return.

Captain Howard Jarrell and his 10-man crew took off from Chengdu, China, on 31 July 1944 for a mission against the Japanese Showa steel mill in Anshan, Manchuria. Capt. Jarrell’s B-29, called “Ramp Tramp”,(B-29-5-BW serial number 42-6256) was assigned to the 462nd (Very Heavy) Bomb Group and was part of a large air strike composed of approximately 100 aircraft. At the end of the bomb run, the inboard right engine (No. 3) “ran away” and could not be “feathered” (setting the variable pitched propeller blades parallel to the airflow to minimize aerodynamic drag). So, the engine had to be shut down, which increased the drag of the unfeathered propeller. This made the plane burn more fuel, so it could not get back to Chengdu. The pilot headed toward the Soviet base at Vladivostok, Russia to land the damaged bomber. The crew were allowed to escape into American-occupied Iran in January 1945. The bomber was not returned and instead used in the USSR during 1948-49 as a drop ship for underwing launching of 346P glider, a development of the German DFS 346 rocket-powered aircraft. It was also used by the Soviets in the effort to copy the B-29 as the Tu-4 Bull.

On August 20, 1944 the US Army Air Force B-29 Superfortress “Cait Paomat” (42-93829) flying from Chengdu was damaged by anti-aircraft gunfire during a raid on the Yawata Iron Works. Due to the damage sustained, the crew elected to divert to the Soviet Union. The aircraft crashed in the foothills of Sikhote Alin Range east of Khabarovsk after the crew baled out. The crew was interned and allowed to escape into American-occupied Iran in January 1945. The airframe was used by the Soviets in the effort to copy the B-29 as the Tu-4 Bull. The complete wing and engines of this aircraft were later incorporated into the sole Tu-70 Cart transport aircraft.

On 11 November 1944, during a nighttime raid on Omura on Kyushu Japan, the USAAF B-29 “General H.H. Arnold Special” (42-6365) was damaged and forced to divert to Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. The crew was interned.[44] On 21 November 1944, the USAAF B-29 “Ding Hao” (42-6358) was damaged during a raid on an aircraft factory at Omura, Japan and also forced to divert to Vladivostok. The interned crews were allowed to escape into American-occupied Iran in January 1945. Both B-29s were not returned and instead used in the Tu-4 Bull development effort.

The Tupolev OKB dismantled and studied Ramp Tramp and the other two B-29s, and Stalin ordered Tupolev and his design bureau to copy the B-29, and produce a design ready for quantity production as soon as possible. As the supply of aluminum in the USSR was in different thicknesses than available in the US (metric vs imperial), the entire aircraft had to be extensively re-engineered and the Tu-4 cannot be regarded as an exact copy despite external appearances, with Tupolev even substituting his own favored airfoil sections for those used by Boeing.

In 1947, the Soviets debuted both the Tupolev Tu-4 (NATO ASCC code named Bull) copy of the B-29, and the Tupolev Tu-70 transport variant. The Soviets used tail-gunner positions similar to the B-29 in many later bombers and transports.

A little over a decade later, the Soviets copied American Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, too:

The Taiwan Strait battles inadvertently produced a new derivative of Sidewinder: shortly after that conflict the Soviet Union began the manufacture of the K-13/R-3S missile (NATO reporting name AA-2 ‘Atoll’), a reverse-engineered copy of the Sidewinder.

It was made possible after a Taiwanese AIM-9B hit a Chinese Communist MiG-17 without exploding, the missile lodging itself in the airframe of the MiG after which the pilot was able to bring both plane and missile back to base.

According to Ron Westrum in his book “Sidewinder”, the Soviets obtained the plans for Sidewinder from a Swedish Colonel, Stig Wennerström, and rushed their version into service by 1961 copying it so closely that even the part numbers were duplicated, although none of the known Soviet sources mention this. Years later, Soviet engineers would admit that the captured Sidewinder served as a “university course” in missile design and substantially improved Soviet and allied air-to-air capabilities.

The K-13 and its derivatives remained in production for nearly 30 years. In the 1960s, the possession of the K-13 in the Soviet arsenal caused major changes in the USAF bombing tactics, forcing bombers from high-altitudes down to lower levels, below enemy radar coverage. In 1972 when Finnish Air Force started using Sidewinder (AIM-9P) in their Saab 35 Draken fighters, they were already using Soviet -made Atoll in their MiG-21s; Finns found the two so similar that they tested Sidewinders in MiGs and Atolls in Drakens.

(Hat tip to a Slovenian guest, who described these stories as “screaming Isegoria” when he came across them.)


  1. “The interned crews were allowed to escape into American-occupied Iran in January 1945.”

    Soviet internal security must have really sucked. That’s a long escape route. Losing one crew, maybe a coincidence. Losing three, that screams incompetence. Uncle Joe would not be pleased.

    It couldn’t happen today. The escaping crews would be instantly spotted by a screaming Isegora, an unblinking eye that misses nothing.

  2. Buckethead says:

    My dad wrote an article for Air and Space magazine on the Tu-4. I’d provide a link, but I’m in the middle of nowhere on a 2G connection. Fascinating story.

  3. Tyler in Chicago says:

    I believe the article that Buckethead refers to is here.

    Also note that the fuselage width of the Tu-95, and later derivatives, is exactly the same as the B-29. Many other attributes and design details are either carried over or scaled up from Tu-4/B-29 heritage. The ultimate extrapolation of the B-29 was not the B-52 — that was a clean sheet of paper design — but the Bear.

  4. Isegoria says:

    Thanks for the link, Tyler. This passage caught my attention:

    Ramp Tramp first entered Soviet territory while returning from a raid in Manchuria. Jarrell’s crew experienced electrical system problems and were saddled with a radio that would receive but not transmit, so Jarrell headed toward Vladivostok, where he naively assumed that he and his crew would be allowed to fly home as soon as the bomber could be repaired and refueled. Like many U.S. airmen, he thought the Soviets, then allies in the war against Germany, would welcome him and his crew.

    But Vladivostok proved to be hostile territory. Ever since Edward York landed his B-25 at Vladivostok after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942, all U.S. aircraft penetrating Soviet airspace in the Far East had been confiscated. After landing in Vladivostok, Jarrell never saw the airplane again. He and his crew members joined other interned airmen in a camp in central Asia, where they remained for months, prior to being repatriated through Iran.

    The Soviet decision to retain the American B-29s reflected one of Stalin’s wartime priorities: the maintenance of a tenuous peace with Japan. Moscow could ill afford a war on two fronts with Axis powers. When Jarrell’s crew landed at Vladivostok in the summer of 1944, the Red Army was still engaged in a titanic struggle with Nazi Germany. Stalin feared that any overt cooperation with the United States in the Pacific War would be viewed by Tokyo as a military provocation, and the poorly defended Soviet garrison at Vladivostok was in easy reach of Japanese armies in Korea and Manchuria. Stalin would not enter the war against Japan until he could do it on his own terms, and not until August 1945, after the defeat of Germany.

    During 1944 and 1945 deep differences and conflicting interests began to surface among the Allies, and these would shape the character of the war. Washington quietly acquiesced to the confiscation of the B-29s and kept the matter under wraps. There was no concerted diplomatic effort to gain their return, as maintaining cordial relations with Moscow was a high priority for the United States throughout World War II. The War Department even asked returning interned airmen to keep silent about their sojourn in the Soviet Union. Ramp Tramp landed in Vladivostok at the very time in the war when friction between the Soviets and the Allies first emerged.

  5. Hey Buckethead. Is your father Boyne or Hardesty?

  6. Isegoria says:

    The perfidious Buckethead belongs to the Hardesty clan.

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