Soviet Ilyushin Il-2
The Flying Tank
Air & Bread
When the leader of the Soviet Union wires your factory, and tells you that your production has fallen behind, and that it is of utmost importance that it return to normal levels, you fear for your job, and possibly your life. When the leader of the Soviet Union wires your factory, about the same issue, and tells you that the thing you produce is as important to the Red Army as 'Air and Bread', you now fear not for yourself or your job, but for your family, your community, your city, and your country.
This was the sentiment that took hold in the plants that produced the Il-2 Sturmovich. Known to the Infantry as the 'flying tank', this aircraft was incredibly impressive for a number of reasons. Not the least of which was its sheer number of production. With over 30,000 of the Aircraft produced, it became the most mass-produced military aircraft in history, and an important factor in every Russian battle of World War II after 1942.
The Il-2 Sturmovich was a close air support craft, designed to take off from nearby airfields, and provide direct fire to enemy elements, whether infantry or armored. The weapons it carried did just this, as it carried a single medium weight bomb, and four forward facing 30mm cannons. It was known for its ability to use these 30mm shells to punch through the rear armor of enemy takes, completely eviscerating the crew. The plane also had a rear gunner with a 7mm machine-gun, to give cover against enemy aircraft.
The Sturmovich was renowned not only for its offensive capabilities, but its ability to survive combat. There are accounts, at least one, where one Sturmovich returned to its airfield despite having over 1000 individual bullet holes, and at least 50% of its control apparatus disabled. The fact that the pilot was able to return such a damaged machine to its field was a testament to the courage of the Soviet fighting person, and to the design's solidarity.
The effect that the craft had on the war was demonstrated not only by Soviet propaganda, but German reports as well. During the Battle of Kursk, there was a situation in which close to 100 German Panzers were repelled by a flight of some 30 Sturmovichs, and ended up losing at least 30 tanks during the engagement.
Without a doubt, the Sturmovich was important to Soviet victory, and a key symbol of Soviet Airpower. But more than that, it is one of the many symbols of the strength of the state which wielded the largest army in human history, fighting on the largest front in human history. An engagement so massive that it marked two battles as potential points where the world's fate balanced on the head of a pin. This was the importance of the Eastern Front, and Operation Barbarossa.