In this next Legends of the East we tackle the history and story of Mikoyan and Gurevich’s MiG-3 fighter which rose to prominence during the first part of the war in the east. It’s advanced design and performance required a whole new approach for pilots and teething problems caused crashes and other issues yet the MiG-3 helped hold the line and was the Soviet Union’s best high-altitude fighter. This is the story of the MiG-3!
The same development story that lead to the MiG also lead to the previously discussed LaGG-3 and Yak-1 fighters. The defeat of Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War highlighted the weaknesses of the current stock of Soviet front-line fighters and new designers and a new generation of fighter was requested.
Mikoyan and Gurevich, who had worked under 1930s fighter designer Polikaprov, had a new opportunity (caused partly by the jailing of Polikaprov) to turn in a high speed and high altitude fighter design. The early prototype was designated I-200.
The fighter was designed around the powerful AM-37 engine, however, when this engine was held up in development, it was decided to use the less powerful AM-35 engine. Despite this, the initial prototype was able to achieve a top speed of 402.9 mph (or 648.5 km/h) at a height of 22,638 ft (or 6,900 m) – short of the planned performance but still impressive. State acceptance came quickly and the newly designated MiG-1 would go into immediate production.
Not all the bugs were worked out and Mikoyan and Gurevich began immediately to pursue fixes to some of the biggest problems with the design. Some of the problems included overheating machine gun barrels, malfunctioning synchronizer gear (resulting in the loss of MiG-3’s with bullets chopping off the propeller), excessive oil leaks and a propensity for the aircraft to spin once stalled.
Standard armament comprised of a single UBS 12.7mm machine gun and two ShKAS 7.92mm light machine guns all firing through the propeller. Though it was a similar in weight of fire to the Bf109F-2 it was considered not enough, and efforts were made to modify the armament. 821 aircraft were fitted with two additional UBK 12.7mm machine guns mounted in pods under the wings. The pods were not popular with pilots due to performance losses and many were removed at the front. One hundred aircraft were armed with a pair of UBS 12.7mm machine guns and 72 were fitted with two ShVAK 20mm – all mounted in the nose where the ShKAS machine guns formerly were positioned (the center mount UBS was also removed).
The nose was lengthened, leading edge slats were added, ammunition supply for the ShKAS machine guns were increased to 750 rounds per gun, additional windows were added for improved visibility, and an extra 250 litres of gas were added in a fuel tank under the pilot. Most of these improvements added to the design but the extra gas had the effect of both increasing the range to a maximum of 1,000km (one aircraft was flown to 1,100km) and causing stability issues.
The changes increased its weight and the new fighter lost some of its agility.
Solving problems in the face of war
The MiG-1 and MiG-3 were available in greater numbers than either LaGG-3 or Yak-1 at the start of hostilities but also suffered early on as a result. Many MiG-1s and MiG-3s delivered to forward bases prior to the outbreak of hostilities were destroyed on the ground and those that made it into the air faced a difficult situation.
While the MiG had technical issues, many of the MiG’s greatest woes were not technical but based in tactics and training. Many pilots were trained in strict formation flying and used to the low landing speeds of the I-15, I-153 and I-16 fighters. By contrast the MiG-3 was far faster and required entirely different combat tactics.
Nonetheless, the MiG-3’s reliability was still ahead of the LaGG-3 (the next most numerous new generation fighter) and so regiments continued to receive the fighter and for the first months of the war the MiG-3 carried the weight of being the only reasonably reliable next generation fighter available in numbers.
The MiG-3’s greatest strength was its speed and climb at high altitudes where the fighter surpassed the contemporary Bf109F. At lower altitudes where most Eastern Front battles were fought, however, the MiG-3 had roughly equal or slightly slower speeds and those possessed few other advantages against the superb Messerschmidt fighter.
Many roles and dwindling numbers
MiG-3’s were called in to perform all manners of roles. Standing air defense patrols at low, medium and high altitudes for cities, ships, and other installations were all part of the MiG-3’s duties. So were things that the type was not designed for such as ground attack with rockets and bombs against vehicles, troops, and trains. Night interception of German bombers over Moscow were also pioneered by MiG-3 pilots – many which had their efforts highly publicized in the Soviet newspapers.
In a very successful operation, 42 IAP pilots flew their MiG-3’s on an escort mission alongside IL-2’s to the German base at Orel West. Upon finding a large concentration of aircraft on the ground proceeded to destroy what was reported to be 60 aircraft on the ground along with nine more in the air. German reports later suggested that while fighter unit losses were light, the dive bomber unit of II./SrG 77 was hit hard. Ju52 losses were also significant with the loss of much needed supplies to the forward unit.
The MiG-3 would fly in defense of Kiev, Lenningrad, Stalingrad, Moscow and many more cities around the Soviet Union through to the spring of 1943. By this point the supply of AM-35 engines had dried up (being diverted and modified for use in the deemed essential IL-2) and re-engine efforts using the M-82 engine were canceled with authorities satisfied with the La-5’s performance on the same engine.
The last MiG-3’s would fly defense of Tuapse on the Black Sea Coast and in the far East in the skies above Vladivostok. Their numbers would dwindle due to attrition and none saw conflict in 1945 against Japan.
In the sim
The MiG-3 Series 24 in IL-2: Battle of Moscow represents one of the more refined MiG-3 series aircraft with the longer nose and leading-edge slats. That combined with its powerful engine, streamlined design, and armament options makes the MiG-3 a sometimes surprisingly good fighter in the series.
None of the technical glitches and pilot training issues plague the virtual version of the fighter representing the best of what the MiG-3 could offer and gives us a representation of what some of the more elite units armed with the MiG-3 in 1941 and 1942 could do.
The MiG-3 comes with all the main armament options available for the aircraft. Two FAB-100 bombs, six RS-82 rockets are available for ground attack capabilities. A standard two ShKAS and one UBS heavy machine gun armament can be replaced by two UBS heavy machine guns or two ShVAK 20mm cannon in the nose. The underwing UBK machine guns (along with the performance loss due to their fitting) can also be equipped.
After extensive reading on the fighter over the last few years I’ve reached the conclusion that the MiG-3’s greatest problems were not really of its own making. Mikoyan and Gurevich’s fighter had its problems, many of which they solved during production, but its ultimate lack of true success had to do with the engine that they picked being needed elsewhere. There was also the issue of the fighter, designed for the high-altitude air war that experts had concluded would be the battle of the future, was instead faced with operations at low and medium altitudes where it had few advantages if any against its contemporaries.
The MiG-3 had a reputation of being trouble some but additional reading suggests that most the MiG-3’s biggest problems were solved by early 1942 and that its contemporaries, the Yak and LaGG, also faced similar challenges. That it was the first of the new generation of fighter to go into production and confront pilots also meant that it had to break new ground that the other fighters later came into.
One thing is certain, though the MiG-3 had a somewhat tarnished reputation, it was also a fighter that held the line when few other advanced types were available. In the skies over Moscow in the desperate first months of the war was a place where the fighter and its pilots proved themselves and stemmed the German advance in the East for the first time.
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Boosted: 525 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at sea level, engine mode – Nominal: 493 km/h
- Maximum true air speed at 7600 m, engine mode – Nominal: 626 km/h
- Climb rate at sea level: 15.9 m/s
- Climb rate at 3000 m: 14.0 m/s
- Climb rate at 6000 m: 10.2 m/s
- Maximum performance turn at sea level: 22.4 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
- Maximum performance turn at 3000 m: 28.7 s, at 270 km/h IAS.
- Forward-firing armament:
- 2 x 7.62mm machine gun “ShKAS”, 750 rounds, 1800 rounds per minute, synchronized
- 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 300 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, synchronized
- 2 x 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 145 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, wing-mounted (modification)
- 2 x 12.7mm machine gun “UB”, 350 rounds, 1000 rounds per minute, synchronized (modification)
- 2 x 20mm gun “SsVAK”, 150 rounds, 800 rounds per minute, synchronized (modification)
- 2 x 50 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-50sv”
- 2 x 104 kg general purpose bombs “FAB-100M”
- 6 x 7 kg rockets “ROS-82”, HE payload mass 2.52 kg