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P-39 Airacobras related to K.V. Sukhov, 16 GIAP

by Michal Sekula

August 11, 2015
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Konstantin Vasilievich Sukhov was born on May 31, 1923. He entered Red Army in 1940 and in 1942 he graduated from the Yeisk military-naval aviation school for pilots. However, he started his military service on August 1942 as a infantry private, then he served in cavalry and only latter in aviation. He flew his first combat flights on March 1943 in I-16 and I-153 within 84 iap.
Sukhov and twelve other pilots (A.F. Klubov among them) together with six P-39 were transferred from 84 iap to 16 giap on May 30, 1943. Then he flew P-39 Airacobras until the end of the war.

Sukhov, „The squadron is fighting“:
"Machine was new. Beautiful, impetuous, no scratches. The engine has gained only eight hours. Just yesterday we together with the mechanic painted - of course, using a stencil - a bright red star on the fuselage. And next - the number "50." I was destined to be with this plane and with this number until the end of the war."
16 giap used already M and N versions, when older D-2, K-1 and L-1 came from 84 iap. Two weeks ago, on May 15, 1943 six P-39N came to 16 giap, including Pokryshkin's 29004.

Lend-Lease Airacobras P-39 came to Soviet Union with either Bell transport marking (red star in white circle), e.g. there was no need to paint red stars, or with the standard USAF marking - then red stars were painted over white stars while blue discs were either kept or overpaint with green.
If it is true that Sukhov painted red stars on his Cobra, then his well known "50" with white discs should be a different plane.

After 3 days in 16 giap, during the training flight on June 3, 1943, Sukhov destroyed P-39L-1, s/n: 42-4600, one of those six Airacobras transferred together with him from 84 iap.
Here is possible look of this Cobra, unfortunately board number is not known:

Sukhov in his book mentioned how Klubov's and Rechkalov's Airacobras were deformed (fuselage is deformed like "accordion", tip bent, antenna gone, the transmitter has moved from its place, even bolts were cut…) by overload during wild flying maneuvers.
However, nowhere any specific info about similar damage and/or fuselage reinforcement of Sukhov's P-39.

Compare with the reinforcement done locally by Soviets on another Airacobra:

On September 2, 1943 (some sources dated September 5) Sukhov achieved his first victory in 16 giap, he shot down Fw-189. However, his P-39 was hit by debris from the German plane.

One and half year later, from February 18 to April 14 1945 the section of Berlin - Breslau highway was used by 16 giap as a runway.

Regiment and its planes - during the March 32 P-39, 2 La-7, 1 Ula-5 and 1 Po-2 - were actually based at the nearby Aslau airfield. There were also planes from 104 giap at the same airport.

Aslau (today Osla) was the operational airfield in Silesia in SE Germany. It had one very large assembly hangar, four more very large hangars and one large repair hangar, all of which were fronted by concrete aprons and connected to the taxiway. The Berlin-Breslau Autobahn paralleled the south boundary of the landing area at a distance of less than 1 kilometer. There was major development and building construction for use as a factory and repair airfield During the war.
Production in Aslau begun in 1943 and run until the very last moment. Germans there still in January 1945 produced 10 Fw-190 A-8 and 14 D-9.

On February 25, 1945 Sukhov's P-39 was hit by 20-mm shells, even flames appeared on the plane, but Sukhov managed to land it successfully.

Sukhov "The squadron is fighting":
„My plane is hit. I notice holes in the right wing, light is going through them! That's bad, there are fuel tanks!
I am trying to push the throttle forward and break away from the "Fockers" but it does not move, it is jammed. So, the control system was hit by a shell.
My fighter started to burn. It is not pulsing flame, only a thin stream of smoke coming out from the holes.
A fire erupted on my plane. I lowered the nose of the plane and speed began to rise, but flames are stronger, the orange-red tongue extended. Apparently, this is due to the petrol in the fuel tank. Nose pushed down again and fire is extinguished.
Landing gears are extended mechanically... Ground! One hundred and fifty meters long triple track is plowed into soft ground. But the chassis survived. I quickly open the right door, I want to see what damage is on the fighter. I'm still in the mud, inspecting plane. I counted seven holes "drilled" by seven 20mm projectiles. The drum for 37mm shells and 12.7mm machine guns ammunition boxes have hits. Fortunately, they were empty, a moment before I released last shells and bullets from it, into the "Fokker". Also the fuel tank was damaged...“

Pokryshkin, "Know yourself in a fight“:
„Burning "Fokker" fell to the ground. But Sukhov's plane got hit and the fire erupted on the wing. Experienced pilot made a forced landing...“
Pokryskin, „War Sky“:
Sukhov returned with damaged and burned plane. I saw how flames appeared when speed of plane decreased and how they disappeared when Sukhov started attack.

Tabachenko, „Pokryshkinskij aviapolk“:
Feb 25, 1945, 18:00, Sukhov shot down Fw-190. During next fight Sukhov flew directly against another Fw-190, they both fired. FW-190 in flames crashed into the ground. Sukhov’s plane was also damaged and burned. Sukhov maneuvering in high speed extinguished the fire and landed at 19:00. During the next flight on 28.2.1945 Sukhov shot down 2 Fw-189.

What version of P-39 was that plane?
Same day, February 25, 1945 when Sukhov landed his damaged P-39, Airacobra P-39M-1 serial no. 42-4926 was disassembled for spare parts due to wear and tear on...
Or was that damaged Sukhov's P-39 a different plane which was not written-off but repaired and used again?
There are no wing guns (but could be only removed) on Sukhov's „50“ and, more important, there is a small vent on the front bottom fuselage between propeller and front landing gear:

This means that P-39 white „50“ should be Q version (probably Q5 or higher).

Pilots from 16GIAP started to fly free hunting and scouting with FAB-100 bomb in March. After crossing front line they looked for targets, bombed it and continued in flight.
This is the time when Sukhov' P-39Q board number „50“ filmed with Pokryshkin has become well-known.

Repainting on the sides and front fuselage is noticeable brighter than faded Olive Drab from different angles and times, so it is not only matter of the fresh semi-gloss paint reflection.
It is evident that the plane is not camouflaged and there was no attempt to match colour of repairs with the original colour.
Question is – what paints were used?

Undersurface repainting looks glossy. Yes, it could be at least partially splashy by the watter from the ground, but sharp edge on the right underwing shows that it is also feature of the paint.

I. Zlobin presented at VIF forum that in his analyses all Russian green colors were eliminated as they are darker than faded OD, but the color on the plane is brighter than OD. Also dark grey AMT-12 is darker than OD. The remaining three colors are blue-gray AMT-11, light blue AMT-7, US Neutral Grey. To consider light brown color or some mixture seems to be unrealistic.
According to the all know photographs from this 9 giad the Soviet green colors were not applied on the Airacobras. Neutral Grey theoretically is the most suitable.
The plane could belly-landed and technicians simply painted all repaired areas on the wings and fuselage by only one color.
Although weathered 4BO green in one of its dozen shades could be quite light, as seen on these helmets:

According to the info from the same forum, however, only a limited amount of Soviet paints were delivered to the front units and they were spent on small touch-ups but not for the camouflage.
And US paints not supplied.
Russians had quite big problems with original fuel for Airacobras before end of the war due to too long distances from the front lines to country. Pokryshkin had to use all his authority and different "paperworks" to continue with training flights of his unit. And surely the fuel deliveries had the higher priority than paint deliveries to the front units.

In the context - problems even with fuel, not only paint deliveries and German/Luftwaffe paints very probably available from the local production facility – the German paints look like real option.
V. Roman presented at VIF forum that repainting was done by German paint and that brown is not option.

In January 1945, the last month of Fw-190 production in Aslau, there in the local stock could be paints either from previous 75/83 scheme or already for new 81 Braunviolett /82 Hellgrün (Bright Green) combination.
Testimony from December 1944 about FW-190 D-9 "Black 12", WNr. 210079, crashed from a low-level hit - The camouflage is a mottled on the fuselage, with the green predominating. The upper surfaces of the wings are a rather brighter green than is usual with German aircraft, whilst the undersides of the wings are light blue. The spinner is black with a white spiral... - is good description for RLM 82 Hellgrün.
So possible candidates are 75 Grauviolett or 82 Hellgrün 82 (Bright Green). 81 Braunviolett or 83 Dunkelgrün (Dark Green) are too dark. 76 either Lichtblau or Weissblau seems to be OK for underwings.

So here is profile of Sukhov's P-39Q board number „50“ I have drawn according to the info known to me up to date:

My choice for the light upper surface color is either German RLM 82 Hellgrün,
Repainting on the underwings is German RLM 76 or in one of its shades other German light blue.
Number "50" apparently is not the same white as disc under the star, it could be some Soviet yellowish oil white or silver „serebrjanka“.
Of course there can appear substantial info or high quality photo that will prove my outcomes or show that I was wrong. But until then... happy modeling.

K.V. Sukhov shot down 22 enemy planes in total and was awarded Hero of the Soviet Union after the war, on June 27, 1945.

K.V. Sukhov, Eskadrilja vedet boi (The squadron is fighting)
A.I. Tabachenko, Pokryshkinskiy aviapolk - Nelakirovannye boevye chroniki (Pokryshkinsky Regiment - unvarnished combat chronicles)
A.I. Pokryshkin, Nebo Voiny (Sky of war)
A.I. Pokryshkin, Poznaj seba v boju (Know yourself in a fight)
and among others mainly following Internet sites: (VIF)