Soviet Tupolev T-B3 heavy bomber 1/72 scale. Советский бомбардировщик ТБ-3

Alas, my green beauty has long since departed to modeller’s heaven. The pen gives an idea of the size of the model in 1:72 scale.

I built this model of the TB-3 many years ago but it is sadly no longer in my possession. It went into the modelling graveyard in the sky, i.e. my loft, and ended up damaged and then passed away forever. All I have left are these photos two of which I took in my backyard. I had to lie on the ground to get the whole thing in focus a feat I wouldn’t dare these days!

Looking like a giant bird of prey ready for lift off!

I think the main reason I let her go is that I was never entirely satisfied with the finished kit wing, which was a nightmare to assemble.

However, I felt it deserved an honourable mention as it is such an interesting and unusual subject and also an important part of aviation history. After all, it was the world’s first cantilever wing four-engine heavy bomber.

It also ties in with my little I-16 fighter as you will see below.

It bristles with machine guns but very disappointingly there are no crew figures which would really have enhanced the model and added interest.
I have enhanced this photo which shows off the corrugated texture of the wing to better effect.

In the early days of my modelling career, I had a tendency to be carried away by size and this aircraft is a good example of it! The fact that the subject was Soviet and the kit manufactured in Ukraine might also just have pulled at the heartstrings a tad! A case of the heart ruling the head as usual.

Nowadays, I have learned that size is not everything and to make sure I have the requisite display space!

They say that when it came to aircraft design, Stalin was always impressed by two things, speed and size, and the TB-3 certainly fit the bill in regard to the latter.

The kit was manufactured by ICM of Ukraine and as I recall was an absolute pig to build!

It came in a rather flimsy box which didn’t help! I think the Ukrainians must have been conserving cardboard at the time.

To tackle this bizarre Tupolev Titan, looks like a boat with wings stuck on, you almost needed a degree in engineering. The carcass of the beast is chock full of bulkheads, spars and formers. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to fit, the plastic was horrendous, parts were warped, location devices missing and the instructions vague and confusing!

The most frustrating part of the build was trying to get the two wing halves to close on top of the internal spars. In the end there must have been a 5 mm gap at least between them which I was only able to overcome using clamps, packets of super-glue and brute strength!

The wing surfaces were heavily corrugated and made for an interesting feature but also made it virtually impossible to sand and file!

And now for some history of this brute.

“The 1930s was a period of rapid development of aviation in the USSR. Air parades, films about hero pilots, the opening of air schools throughout the country, the establishment of new records for altitude, speed and flight range – aviation had become a real cult for the young Land of Soviets. The heavy bomber TB-3 (or as it was also called ANT-6) is a real symbol of that era. Not a single air parade could do without this giant and there are many records on the TB-3 account, this plane landed on drifting ice floes and participated in the war in Spain”. (From MilitaryArms. RU)

Despite its ungainly looks, when Tupolev’s heavy four-engined bomber ANT-6, later designated TB-3, first appeared it was considered the pinnacle of aviation design- very hard to believe now! Many of the technical solutions employed during its construction would determine the development of heavy aviation for decades to come.

The prototype ANT-6 made its first test flight in December 1930.

The total number of TB-3s manufactured was 818 with a number of modifications taking place during the mass production period.

Its overload version could carry up to 5 tons of bombs with the flight range exceeding 3,000 km. The defensive armament of the first models was 5 DA machine guns mounted at different points. The crew consisted of from 6 to 11 men depending on the version.

Note the really weird looking bicycle-like undercarriage! The engines and propellers also don’t look powerful enough for the size of the air frame.
As you can see from this photo, the crew were left completely exposed to the elements in their open cockpits which was quite natural for the time. Still, it must have got rather cold travelling at 100 mph at 15,000 ft! Apparently the crews would smear animal fat over their exposed flesh. Lovely! I am sure vodka would have helped, too.

The TB-3 became the basis of the Soviet bomber fleet during the 1930s with two powerful aviation groups organised around it based in the European part of the USSR and the other in the Far East. In the largest military exercises in the Kiev and Belorussian Military districts, the TB-3s were used in the roles of bombers and transports.

I found the following on a Russian website which I simply had to quote:

“The TB-3 took part for the first time in military operations in the summer and autumn of 1937. They acted against the “internal enemy” – the Basmachi in the Pamirs. To support the operations of border guards and units of the Red Army, 30 R-5 and three TB-3 were then involved. The latter transported people and goods to hard-to-reach areas”. (

Now I never knew that! Sorry but obscure facts like that really grab me. The militant Bashmachi movement was a protracted uprising by Muslim peoples against Russian and Soviet rule in the 1920s and 1930s in Central Asia. You can stop groaning now (or yawning).

It could even drop off paratroopers who would literally slide off the wing. Rather them than me!

Could carry light tanks such as the amphibious T-38. The nose of the aircraft under the machine-gun turret was glazed. Looks like a patio window but it must have been rather a nice view!

By 1939, the TB-3 was obsolete but it saw action in the Winter War against the Finns and a few took part in fighting against the Japanese at Lake Khasan and Khalkin Gol. It was used extensively during the Great Patriotic War for transporting troops and frequently as a night bomber due to its vulnerability, i.e slow speed and weak defences.

Talk about versatile! The TB-3 acting as the mother ship to an I-16, like something you would expect out of an early science fiction novel or film!

Believe it or not, the bomber could also act as a kind of aircraft carrier or mother ship for between two and five fighters. This was the so-called Zveno (‘Chain’) or parasite plane project developed in the USSR in the 1930s. In the definitive SPB version, under the wings of the bomber, two I-16 fighters could be fixed.

 In 1941, two TB-3 carrier fighters made several raids on the Romanian oil fields at Ploesti. They not only destroyed the oil pipeline, but also hit a strategically important bridge.

 I believe this particular kit is no longer in production although you can still find it on e-bay and specialist model sites at ridiculous prices. It would be really lovely for another manufacturer to take up the challenge again of releasing a model of the TB-3. I really can’t see Airfix accepting but perhaps Zvezda of Russia!? You never know, I might then be persuaded to have another go but only if there are no wing spars!

WARNING! The following long footage is ONLY for dedicated Soviet aircraft fanatics. But the background music is nice.

Petlyakov Pe-2 Soviet Dive bomber Пикирующий бомбардировщик Пе-2

This 1/48 scale model is by Russian kit manufacturer Zvezda. I was very impressed with the quality. I have set the scene by adding a Soviet Gaz jeep and two figures.

The Petlyakov Pe-2 or ‘Peshka’ (Pawn) as it was nicknamed, was a two-engined dive bomber developed by V.M. Petlyakov and his team, one of the major Soviet planes of World War II. It began mass production in summer of 1940. The bomb bay could accommodate four 100-kg bombs, and its external store 250-kg bombs. Its defensive armament comprised five machine guns.
The word on the fuselage, ‘Zabijaka’, means something like ‘destroyer’ or ‘beater’
V.M. Petlyakov
This one didn’t quite make it! Destroyed in Germany right at the end of the war.

Soviet U-2/PO-2 Biplane

ICM 1 48 scale kit of Po-2 with officers and ground crew

Box art

U-2 from the Russian uchebnyy (‘training’). This particular aircraft was one I have wanted to build for many years not least because my Father mentions seeing, or rather hearing, them fly over his native village in Ukraine during the Second World War.

I was drawn to this particular kit as it’s relatively cheap and comes with lovely box art as you can see! They say that building a model is 90% inspiration and the allure of the box art is very often the deciding factor. It is also by ICM a Ukrainian manufacturer in Kiev so rather appropriate.

I am not a great fan of building bi-planes generally as the rigging is such a pain to attach but by now I thought had sufficient skills and confidence to attempt it!

The rigging is mostly nylon thread and stretched sprue (i.e. made by stretching a part of plastic sprue or frame of the model parts over a lighted candle).

Note female officer
From the instruction sheet. Soviet light night bomber U-2/Po-2. One of the most famous and massed produced aircraft in aviation history. It was developed primarily as a training aircraft and its first flight took place in 1927. At the beginning of the 1930s, it was the actual ‘flying desk’ for thousands of Soviet pilots. During the Second World War, the U-2 was armed and received the name U-2VS and were used with great success in the role of night bombers, often with female crews. After the death of N.N. Polikarpov (Soviet designer) in 1944, the aircraft was renamed the PO-2.

The writing on the fuselage side says in Russian, ‘We shall avenge’ and ‘for the fighting (female) friends’ and also the names of two of the Soviet female pilots ( Tanya Makarova and Vera Belik) who flew in the aircraft at the end of the war (both killed). I managed to mess up one of the decals which were incredibly thin and so had to rewrite them myself with a white marker pen!

Here is what my Father said about the aircraft in the book ‘God Save Me From My Friends’ (3rd edition Vanguard press page 121:

From time to time, the Russians bombed our village. The aircraft came over only at night and we dubbed them ‘derkarchi’ due to the unique ‘drr’ sound of their engines, which the pilots would sometimes cut in order to glide and avoid being caught in the beams of the German searchlights. The ‘derkarchi’ were primitive wood and canvas bi-planes and they were little more than nuisances to the Germans‘. The footnote says: ‘Derkarchi‘. Probably the famous U-2/Po-2 bi-plane. Nicknamed by the Germans the ‘coffee grinder’ and the ‘sewing machine’, it often flew by night (painted all black) to drop mines or bombs. On page 120, it is mentioned that two divisions of U-2s were used by the Soviets to bomb the German held Ukrainian fortress town of Ternopil in western Ukraine into submission.

Father’s Biography

The PO-2 was the aircraft used by the 588th Night Bomber Regiment composed of an all-woman pilot and ground crew staff and as such they earned the nickname ‘Night Witches’.

All in all, a very pleasing and interesting project!