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Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin
last modified on September 10, 2005
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These photos are of the most famous MiG-3 pilot,  Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin (the familiar is Sasha, a brief form for Aleksandr). 
He was born on March 6, 1913 in the city of Novonikolaevske (Novosibirsk), and went to school for 7 years, then he became a metal craftsman in a factory. 
In 1932 he wanted to become a pilot but instead he became an aircraft technician and in 1935 he became chef technician for a zveno (4 aircraft) of his regiment in the Kuban peninsula where he later got most of his victories. 
There he incidentally met the already famous test pilot Stepan Suprun. Probably with his help (he promised Pokryshkin that he will help him) he managed to become a pilot. 
In 1941 his regiment, 55 IAP, was located at Belcy airfield in the Odessa Military District near the Romanian border, and equipped with I-16s and I-153s.


MiG-3 Time
During May 1941 the regiment got its first MiGs from Belcy air base, and Pokrishkin helped to ferry these to the Regiment's base, Mayaki. The aircraft of Sasha was likely from first production batches, perhaps a MiG-1, without the radio and with a lot of defects, and required weeks of work of the field brigades of Zavod 1 to be completed.

Despite of the ambiguous opinion of many pilots towards this machine, and his own criticism because of the weak armament, Alexander found it desirable:  "... The fighter MiG-3...has demanded of the pilot many new skills and additional efforts in training. I liked this machine at once. It could be compared to a hot race horse: under a skilful rider it rushed along like an arrow, but when you lost control you could end up beneath its hoofs.
In any design there will be always a weak point. Excellent fighting qualities of MiG-3 were hidden behind its defects. Advantages of this machine became accessible only to those pilots who were able to find them and use them correctly.
The MiG-3 easily dived, speeding up over 500 km/h, doing after that a looping in 600-700 m (I-16 could give considerably smaller looping heights). This large height is a stock of speed. In flight the MiG-3 was easy and obedient. One movement of the stick changed its position, stopped in revolution. I liked this machine, qualities and conception for attack! "

Senior Lieutnant Pokryshkin was, at the beginning of the war, an expert fighter pilot and the assistant of the commander of his eskadrilya of the 55 IAP. He obtained his first aerial kill on 22 June, 1941 (after few hours of war) at the expenses of a Russian light bomber Su-2. This type was nearly secret, and wasn't immediately recognized by Russian fighter pilots. When Pokryshkin saw red stars under the wings of his victim, he understood the error and prevented all the other MiGs from continuing the attack by cutting repeatedly into their way with his aircraft, all of which had no radio equipment.

His first 'true' aerial victory was reached the following day at the expence of a Me-109; he barely escaped from the other German fighters.

The sliding part of the canopy was a source of problems for MiGs. In a fast dive his unit was torn away. The other Regimental pilots found it was impossible to open the canopies with a speed over 400 km/h, and asked their technicians to remove them all.

Pokryshkin's first MiG-3 was shot down by AA fire on July 3, 1941 over the Prut river, beyond enemy lines. He managed to force land his plane in the forest. He returned to the regiment after 4 days of walking, during which time the regiment gave him up as killed; thus, his stuff was devided amongst his wingmen.

When his regiment was transferred to Kotovek Air Base, the 12.7 mm guns were removed from their MiGs; instead were put 2 bombs of 100 kg each. Later the bombs were swapped for RS rockets.
A few days later, during an escort mission for Su-2s, a flak shell slightly damaged his new MiG, which landed together with the bombers at Katovsk airfield.

In the late summer of 1941 Pokryshkin flew an Il-2, but not in combat. Some of his comrades changed to that aircraft because there was a suggestion to do so, but not he. He wrote: “It was a great pleasure to sit in MY MiG. She (the MiG) was absolutely tailored to my temperament.”

One time he found a small pig near his plane; he tied its legs and put it behind the seat of Mig-3; he successfully accomplished the reconnaissance mission together with the pig!

On October 5, 1941, his rocket-armed MiG was shot down by Messerschmitts and made a forced landing near Orehovo, right into Russian troops in chaotic retreat. He got some soldiers and a truck from an infantry regiment’s commander, a colonel. His eye was wounded, so the colonel insisted that he had to go to the doctor first before he could make an attempt to save his aircraft. After 2 days 'on the street' he had to burn the MiG by order of a VVS general because the retreat was too fast and they were under fire the whole time with heavy casualties. After five more days he reached his regiment. He was out of action for a further 2 days, sleeping in the doctor's tent.

After the return to his regiment, he was ordered to train the fresh pilots in Zernograd while he recovered fully. The training took till November 17, 1941. After that he and his trained pilots transferred to the Semikarakorovsk airfield near Zernograd.

During the following period Sasha used to fly Mig-3s from time to time(or, more usually? His books aren't too clear on this point).

During the winter the regiment got ten I-16s; these machines were used mainly for training. Sometimes they used these rocket equipped aircraft for ground attack. There is a questionable report about the most effective rocket attack he had ever seen. In a fight with 12 Macchis (no information if MC-200 or MC-202 only 'Macchis') an I-16 downed 5(!) Macchis with 6 RS-82. He wrote this in an otherwise believable and widely self-critical account.

During the last days of December he was awarded with the Order of Lenin for having shot down 10 enemy aircraft and made about 200 combat missions.

He continued to fly, sometimes with I-16s, up to February 1942. Only on February did he get another MiG-3. On this he mainly flew reconnaissance missions ( it should be the aircraft of the photo above). Pokryshkin thought that the MiG-3 fits best for reconnaissance missions, where the sudden appearance over the enemy's position is vital.

The production of new MiG-3s was terminated, so his regiment was lacking replacements. Thus, at times there were 2 pilots for each MiG. Pokryshkin’s colleague was Danil Nikitin; they used to fly in series.

During the spring (March ?) of 1942 the MiG-3 piloted by Nikitin was hit, after which he rammed a Me-109. Nikitin was killed.

After this, Sasha obtained a MiG-3 for himself only, but he flew other aircraft, as well.

His Regiment, 55 IAP, was made Guards on March 7, 1942, as 16 GIAP.

In the beginning of April 1942 he was transferred to Novocherkask to get acquainted with Me-109E. Here there was established the new special regiment with Me-109 in its service. In spring 1942 Pokryshkin flew a Me-109E delivered by a defecting Croatian pilot. When he met a SB bomber in the air, the pilot of the SB did not realize the rather dull red stars, seeing only a goddamn Messerschmitt and made a forced landing on a flushed meadow. Another 'own victory' for Pokryshkin after the Su-2 adventure. Only minutes later, almost the same thing repeated with a U-2.


Yak-1 time
 
In the beginning of January 1942 his regiment got 10 used Yak-1s from another regiment, followed by many other Yaks. 
During the spring of 1942 the regiment got many Yak-1s. The transition from MiGs to other aircraft was not “en bloc”. 

Pokryshkin’s squadron were already flying Yak-1s as top cover for MiGs with bombs which were flown by the other squadrons of the regiment in the ground attack role. 

In the 2nd half of May 1942 he returned back to his regiment, 16 GIAP. At this time, a new Captain was assigned to lead Pokrishkin's eskadrilya, Anatoli Komos. He was an experienced Yak pilot, and was obviously there to help make the transition. 
Pokryshkin got a Yak-1, because most of remaining MiGs were given to the eskadrilya of Figichev and armed with bombs. 
He was very biased against the Yak-1. His major compaint seems to have been "the armament".  His Yak had some production defects, and this looks to have turned him against this type. He said once to fellow pilot Rechkalov that "Yaks were made by short-sighted carpenters". 

Possibly another reason was that Yakovlev was an important figure in Soviet society. Pokrishkin didn't like him, because he seemed to 'suck-up' to the elite in Moscow. 

Despite all of this complaining, Pokrishkin and his unit were very successful in the Yak-1. He never mentions this at all, but from the records it is clear. During this time he shot down his first Me-109F; this was the first time that the Germans used this version in the southern district, where they started Barbarossa with the Me-109E version. 

In July 1942 Pokryshkin landed with a U-2 and another pilot on the already abandoned Stavropol airfield searching for two zvenos of their regiment that lost contact with the staff. He saw there a particular MiG-3 with yellow unpainted putty spots. It was abandoned, so he thought to burn it, but he saw that it was ready to fly. So, he then took off and, despite the locked down undercarriage (due to the lack of compressed air) and the subsequent risk to overheat the engine, he flew it to his regiment, and parked it alongside his Yak-1. He had no choice but to fly this MiG home, actually; in fact, the U-2 had already taken off because German motorcyclists had appeared on the airfield and started to fire. 

While the Allies landed very successfully at Oran beach in Algeria, drunken Pokryshkin had a fight with a drunken captain. Again he was the victor but he was kicked out of the Communist Party for 2 month because his jealous commander exaggerated everything, and there were almost a war tribunal. But than there came the chief of the Division and cleared everything; he offered Pokryshkin his own regiment equipped with new La-5. He test flew this aircraft and noted especially the radio equipment. But he decided to stay with his old comrades. Maybe he would have become the only 4 times Hero of the Soviet Union had he taken the command? Who knows?

He stopped flying “somewhat” drunken after he missed a Messerschmitt with his guns because of his condition! But, this kind of behavior seems to be very common during wartime.

Pokryshkin was not only a skilful pilot, but an officer with a strong personality too, able to persuasively argue his opinions. But, he was also an imperious personality, requiring submission by his subordinates, and this led to many conflicts.

In the 2nd half of August 1942, it was announced that the regiment would be withdrawn to Baku for re-training and a change of machines. Pokryshkin noticed that before withdrawal at their airfield there were no machines but his lonely MiG-3 “in yellow putty”; the regiment of Major Dzusov refused to take this plane as they did with Yak-1s.

Then he flew to the Beslan (or Tulatov?) airport where the Figachev's eskadrilya was still operating with MiG-3s, to give the spotty MiG to them. After he landed there, he noticed beside the landing strip a broken MiG-3. He recognized at once that it was a plane from his regiment according the specific painting scheme, which they called “zebra”. (note: Pokryshkin's books are contadictory-- it is not clear if 'Zebra' was the 'spotty' aircraft, the ex-Suprun aircraft, or many MiGs of his Regiment). On the ground he was told that it was the plane of S.Ya.Suprun (a pilot with 5 victories; no relation to the famous test pilot S.P.Suprun, who died in 1941). The engine of that MiG-3 stopped at once after Suprun took off for an evacuation flight, and the plane dropped down killing the pilot. Behind the seat was riding the engineer, Kapylov, who was slightly injured. Being effected by the death of Suprun , Pokryshkin decided not to ply with fate any more (during the landing, he found out that the brakes on his MiG-3 did not work), and left his spotty MiG-3 there at the airfield and transferred into Yak-1s again.

The regiment left its planes in Mahachkala, and moved with a ZIS truck towards Baku. This voyage might have finished tragically! Driving on the Caucasus mountain roads, the truck’s brakes broke. Thanks to their quick reaction, all of the pilots jumped out in time before the truck went off the mountain!

P-39 time
 
In Baku they got acquainted with, and transferred into, the P-39. They relocated with their P-39 Airacobras, ferrying the aircrafts from Teheran across the Caucasus. They arrived  alongside the 9 GIAP which was withdrawn from front line service to be reequipped, too, after having suffered heavy losses. 

Sasha liked very much Airacobra, particularly for its strong armament. In 1943 his mechanic Shmud connected the triggers of machine guns and cannon after Pokryshkin’s demand; all these powerful weapons together destroyed any enemy aircraft within a brief time if hit. 

In April 1943 the 16 GIAP, together with 9 GIAP were sent again to the front. They went from Baku up to Krasnodar, on the Kuban peninsula. The combats over the Kuban were the beginning of his future glory. After a long break, the pilots of Captain Pokryshkin fought successfully on 14 April, using new combat techniques-- devised by Pokryshkin himself-- in a massive way for the first time. In one of the flights during April, Pokrishkin brought down 4 Bf -109.  He brought down 6 planes in total, while the pilots of his Regiment scored 29 victories, all in a week! 

On May 24, 1943 Captain Pokryshkin was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for the first time, having made 354 combat missions, 54 air fights, and having downed 13 enemy aircraft individually, plus 6 'shared'. The commander of the Air Forces of North Caucasus front called him "the most skillful master of air fighting"

On June 31 the division received the order to transfer the Regiment to the Donbass. Three months in the sky over the Kuban hd brought him many victories. He became the master of air fighting, the skilful organizer and the idol of young pilots. He flew with them on fighting tasks, teaching combat techniques to them. He was a very able teacher: 30 pilots that learned from him became Heroes of Soviet Union, and three of them were awarded with this honour twice. 

Pokryshkin’s combat tactics:

The next thing was the developing of the so called “formula of victory”: altitude-speed-maneuver-fire. 
That means a fighter pilot should gain altitude, then transform it into speed, that speed into maneuver to get a good firing position. 
That sound just too easy, but the main task of the VVS was to support the ground troops and that means for the fighters to protect the ground troops of enemy’s air attacks. 
The normal way was to fly a combat circle over the area to protect.  This was good in a psychological way for the ground troops. 
Looking above the troops seeing there own fighters all the time:   ”Da, Da, there are our fighters, protecting us.”  But it was not good at all, because the German method was to send the Messerschmitts first to clean the airspace for the following bombers and that means they were coming from above shooting down circling Russian fighters.

Pokryshkin used his basical physics knowledge about transforming potential energy into kinetic energy and vice versa. So they stopped flying circles over the area to protect and flew instead like a big pendulum over the area, having either altitude or speed all the time. This was not good in a psychological way for the ground troops seeing their fighters only when they reached the lowest point ( “Hey! Where are our fighters?") but of course much better in any other respect. Pokryshkin’s unit used that combat tactic first during the fights over Krymskaja and they did it with great success. This formula of victory was published in the Soviet army newspaper “Krasnaja Zvezda” (Red Star), so that the new combat experiences could be distributed all over the front. 

There is another point Pokryshkin complained about:  the use of only small formations even if there were many more aircraft in reserve.
Another new technique was the so called “Kuban stair”. That means that the fighters were staggered in pairs in different altitudes. But this is not connected to Pokryshkin personally.

On August 24, 1943, Major Pokryshkin was awarded (for 455 combat sorties and 30 enemy planes personally shot down until July 1943) the second medal " Gold Star", and was the 10th Soviet military personnel to become twice Hero of Soviet Union.

During the fall 1943, 16 GIAP is based on the Krimean front, with the main duty to defend ground troops and ships in the area of Gulf of Sivach. The unit received two new radars RUS-2, that allowed to guide the fighter from the ground against the planes of the Axis. This gave a great advantage to the Soviets, that obtained a wide mess of victories, until German bombers started to fly very low to avoid radar detection.
In November, the bad weather conditions limited the air activity, but Pokryshkin started some individual flights at low altitude over the Black Sea, shooting down 5 Ju-52 in only four missions. Other pilots of the same unit hunted and killed further 14 Ju-52s in the same way.
General Khrukin, commander of the 8th Air Army, prevented Pokryskin from continuing his individual missions in such bad weather conditions, fearing to lose his double Hero of the Soviet Union.

At the end of the year Pokryshkin had already 53 personal victories and was appointed as commander of 16 GIAP with the rank of Lieutnant Colonel.
The 16 GIAP was retired from the front to complete its ranks with new pilots and planes.

In Moscow

On November 7, 1943 he was in Moscow. He was proposed by Marshall A.Novikov to become the commander of the flight school of fighter pilots with the rank of General. He refused, saying that he would be more useful at the front, training young pilots during combat operations.

During this time, he first met the designer Yakovlev that invited him to flow a Yak-3. Pokryshkin did it, but was unsatisfied and had a lot of complaints. This was possibly influenced by his personal avversion for Yakovlev, and by his unsatisfaction for the Yak-1 defects.
 
The same day Lavockin invited Pokrishkin to fly the La-7 prototype. 
Aside the professional concurrency, there was a personal haste between Lavochkin and Yakolev.
Lavochkin was a simple man and a great worker, while Yakovlev was a sophisticated man that loved a brilliant style of life.
Yakovlev was deputy minister for aircraft production, and possibly Lavochkin feared that his rival was subtly trying  to disadvantage him, as made with Polikarpov some years before.
Pokryshkin was enthusiastic about the La-7. He said that the La-7 was built in accordance to his own demands. 
While waiting for the availabilty of La-7, he and Golubov received La-5s for personal use.
 The only thing that prevented Pokryshkin from being the first Russian fighter pilot who flew the La-7 in combat was that he had a crash in a U-2 on the way to the factory where he would get his new aircraft. When he managed to get to the factory some days later, Lavockin was surprised that he was still alive, because everybody was thinking he died in the crash, and the new La-7s were already given to somebody else.

During May 1944 Aleksandr Pokryshkin returned to the front and was promoted commander of 9 GIAD-- a Guards Fighter Air Division division composed by 16, 100 and 104 GIAP. That means that most of the time he was sitting in a tank with a powerful radio, issuing commands. He was forbidden to perform combat missions, but he sometimes completed successful combat missions with his old unit.
Boris Glinka succeded him as commander of 16 GIAP, but he was shot down and killed on July 16.
 
During the summer, the front was more or less where it was at the beginning of the Great Patrioctic War, and Pokryshkin's Regiment fought on Polish territory, from air stations near to the Vistula. At this time he increased his score to 55 air victories, and on 19 August 1944 he was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union for the third time, (for 550 combat sorties, 137 air fights and 53 individual victories to May 1944).



Dealing with La-7
 
On October 21, 1944, Pokryshkin and his pilots G.A. Rechkalov, A.V.Fyodorov and A.I.Trud were in Moscow, at the airfield of Zavod 381. 
There they received many new La-7s donated from the people of Novosibirsk. 
There was written"To Aleksander Pokryshkin from the workers of Novosibirsk" on the fuselage of each plane, and the noses were completely painted in red. 
The photo here seems to show 5 planes.
He wrote: “The beautiful, powerful fighters caused a great stir. They were much better than Airacobras".

On the morning of 1 November , some pilots of the 16 GIAP made flight tests on La-7s at the airport of Jezowe, in Poland, close to the front line.
The fourth flight of that day was made by Cap. Klubov, a very skilled pilot that made a superb acrobatic exhibition to demonstrate the characteristics of the new plane.
His flight ended in fatal way. During the landing run, a cross wind pushed the plane out of the runway, where it flipped on its back, killing the pilot.
This accident cooled the enthusiasms for the new plane. Although the first operational flights of 16 GIAP on La-7 were made on January 1945, the unit was never fully re-equipped with the new machine.

The end of the war

 In 1945, Pokryshkin had nearly stopped to perform combat missions. His last victory was obtained on January 14, 1945, at the head of 8 P-39. They met a large formation of Ju-87s escorted by FW-190s, shooting down many of them.

They used a section of the Breslau-Berlin Autobahn as an airfield. A Fw-190D-9 landed there by mistake and was captured. Pokryshkin flew it for a test.
Their last airfield during the war was Jueterborg.

Pokrishkin arrived at the end of the war with the rank of Colonel and was awarded three times Hero of the Soviet Union. His total score was 59 confirmed personal victories according to most sources. He was thought to have more (probably 80), but the Soviet claims procedures were strict. To get an individual claim, you had to:
1) have an independent witness, not part of your flight, or part of that combat engagement (ground observer, another flight nearby, etc.).
2) OR, have the wreckage of the victim on the ground
3) AND demonstrate that your actions alone were responsible for the claim.
Any claim that could not meet these criteria were either dismissed altogether, or sometimes awarded as a 'Shared' claim. In 1944, with the Red Army advancing, recovering wrecks became much easier, and so claims could be verified more easily on that basis.
 

above: 
Trud, Pokryshkin, Rechkalov and Guljajew at Red Square in Moscow. 

On the right: in family with his sons. 
 



After the war
 
After the war Aleksandr Pokryshkin remained in the military aviation,  and mastered jet engineering. 

He was one of the first to fly a MiG-9, and contributed to the development of other types of jet, as well. 

His Post-War activities were indeed limited by politics. He had been difficult to Yakovlev, and also was not popular in Moscow generally. In the early postwar years he got ambiguous consideration from Stalin and others, due to his undiplomatic personality. His drinking returned, which was looked down upon a lot. 

  • In 1948 he went to the Military Academy of Frunze, after some years of delay.
  • In 1953 he was promoted Major General; this was rather delayed, in comparison with his rapid career during the war.
  • In 1957 he got the post of "Inspector of the Fighter Arm".
  • In 1968-71 he was the commander of Air Defence of the country (PVO).
  • In 1972 he was promoted Air Marshal.
  • In 1972-81 he was the Chairman of the Central Committee of DOSAAF (Volunteers to support the Army, Air Force, and Fleet)
  • in 1979-84 he was an Honorary Member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR .
As usual, he was given posts of questionable power; he has a figurehead, really. His drinking and poor political standing were the cause of this.

He became fat probably due to excessive use of Vodka. Probably he had the same weight problem like Gagarin. As a national hero he had to attend many official celebrations, which meant an endless parade of drinking and “Na Sdorovjes” and “Uvidimsja pod stolom” (which means “we will meet again under the table” --a very common toast in Russian army).
 
He wrote some books: 
  • " Wings of Fighters ",
  • " Your Honorary Duties ",
  • " Sky of War ",
  • " To Discover Yourself in Battle".


He died on November 13, 1985, and is buried in Moscow. 

Memory of this brave pilot carefully is stored: 

  • a Private museum in France has his P-39 (or a replica?);
  • a museum in Bulgaria has a Yak-3 dedicated to him by the citizens of Novosibirsk (never flown by him);
  • The Museum of Great Patrioctic War in Kishinev shows a MiG-17 on which he flew in post-war time; 
  • in Novosibirsk, a recovered and rebuilt MiG-3 was painted to reproduce hypothetically his aircraft "white 5".
  • In Novosibirsk, in the native land of Pokryshkin, a bronze bust was erected, and a street has his name.

  •  



Sources
The most of this small biography is obtained from “Himmel des Krieges” (Sky of War), Militaerverlag der DDR (VEB) Berlin, 1974; this is an East German traslation of the original “Nebo Voyni” (Sky of War), Moscow 1970, by Alexander Iwanowitsch Pokryschkin (this is the Eastern German way to write Cyrillic letters, it is even different from the West German style, much more correct. This comes from the English pronunciation that was adopted by West Germany but it is not quite right for German pronunciation); the traslation and synopsis was made by Matthias Erben.

This was completed with a lot of informations from “Poznat sebia v boyu”, the last book written by Pokryshkin and edited after his death, translated and resumed by Audrius Nairanauskas. These two books are contadictory on some details.

Other parts are from different Russian web sites, from "Black Cross, Red Star", from Avions n.114, from Lavockin La-7 of Milos Vestsik, ed MBI  and other minor sources.
I hope to have merged correctly all the informations found. If not, the fault is of me only.

Links to see:
 
http://aces.boom.ru/all1/pokrish1.htm
http://aces.boom.ru/all1/pokrish2.htm
http://aces.boom.ru/all1/pokrish3.htm
http://aces.boom.ru/all1/pokrish4.htm
These links are an excellent biography with some photos of him and some profiles of MiG-3 and P-39; the MiG-3 profiles are unreliable, it looks as there are no photos or sufficient informations about his MiGs. I should mention, it is in Russian. 
http://wwii-soldat.narod.ru/pokryshkin/pokryshkin.htm another bibliography in Russian. 
http://wwii-soldat.narod.ru/pokryshkin/pokr_foto.htm a rich photo gallery on him. No photos of aircrafts, but a lot of friends, children, pilots and other people. 
http://airbase.uka.ru/sim/il2/book/blnt_pokr/ a gallery of air combat techniques sketches. 
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