MiG-3s of 120 IAP/ 12 GvIAP on the Moscow front (March 1942)

Updated on 1 July, 2023

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Image colorized by Massimo Tessitori


The 120th IAP (Fighter Aviation Regiment) was formed in October - December 1940 in the Moscow Military District; at first it was equipped with I-153s. In mid 1941, it received some Yak-1s too.

MiG-3s first entered service with one squadron of the 120th IAP in September 1941. In the spring of 1942, the regiment was fully equipped with MiGs. Then, starting from September 1942, MiG-3s began to be replaced by Yaks, but one squadron continued to employ them up to October 1943.

The 120 IAP was made Guards as 12 GvIAP on 7 March 1942; at that time, there was a ceremony when some of the most famous photos of MiG-3s were taken.


Left: Leytenant Sergey Rubtzov with plane 73-5, still with summer finish but on a snowy background; the photo could be of late 1941.

While the black-green camouflage pattern looks usual, apart for the slightly atypical shape of the black blotches on the tail, the numbers are interesting. The white 73 is undisputable, but the scarcely visible number 5 on the rudder is of difficult interpretation. It appears overposed to both the star and camouflage but trasparent, and the outline of the star is clearly visible through it. Besides it looks mr covering on its contour. The most likely explanation is that it was a previous numeration, probably with a light color and black outline, that was partially repainted with the colors of the star and of the camouflage in its inner part, leaving its contour visible for request of the pilot himself after the remarking with 'White 73' on the fin.

The photo show the underwing rockets support, usual on the planes of this unit, and the tail wheel still retractable and with open doors as from factory standard; later the tail wheels were made fixed on all the planes of the unit.


Below, a reconstruction of the profile and top view of the plane. Parts that are not shown on the photo are drawn according to the most common pattern of MiG-3s.

Below: two images of Leytenant Sergey Rubtzov.

The white MiG-3 of the photo below doesn't seem the same of any of the planes drawn below. Note the starter dog on the spinner, very rare on MiG-3s.
Rubtzov was an ace, having shot down about 15 enemy aircraft before his death in 1942.
He obtained 5 victories in December 1941

During a simulated air combat at low altitude, Rubtzov managed to outmanouvre a Yak-1 with his MiG-3, but after this his aircraft had to be written off because its structure was outstressed beyond repair.

Later, he was transferred to 434 IAP, an elite unit later known as 32 GIAP; he was killed in Stalingrad on July 29, 1942.


Red 02

Here is the most known photo shot in Vnukovo airfield on 7.3.1942, at the ceremony renaming 120 IAP into 12 GvIAP.

Many ancient color drawings of the first plane, red 02, do exist. It was traditionally drawn with red wings, perhaps for resemblance to the USAF planes in aortic areas with red high-visibility areas. The shade of grey and the glossy finish of the wing console could have sustained this interpretation.

Later, it was noted that the fuselage panels are those of a late type MiG-3, but the wing without slats and with the pitot on the leading edge is os an early MiG-3 of the first half of 1941. The propeller too has the unpainted finish with its rear partially painted black of prewar MiG-3, and the number written on the cowling side 0.732, is the reduction rate of the early MiG-3 engines. In conclusion, the plane includes parts of different planes, certainly as repairs.

Another photo of 02 shot later, in March or April, shows the ground without snow but the planes still preserving the winter finish. The right wing outer panel still appears dark. Note the rocket rails under the wing consoles, common to all the planes of the unit on that timeframe.


There is the strong suspect, even if not a definitive proof, that this plane was Red 02: the black spinner and the prewar-style painting of the blades seem characteristic of this plane only between those visible on photos of this unit. If so, surprise: the left wing console is whitish as the most part of the winter finished plane, not dark as the other wing panel.

The most likely conclusion is that only the right outer wing console of red 02 was green.


Right, below: top and profile view of plane red 02, drawn on the base of the photos above. The dark, glossy, uniform color of the right wing console was supposed to be AII glossy green, while the lower surface are not too light so they seem painted with AMT-7 light blue (instead of AII light blue as other planes that show lighter landing gear doors and no visible contrast with the white paint on the fuselage).

The star on the fuselage is clearly contoured in black, while this is uncertain on the star on the tail.

The slats are certainly lacking on the right wing; it was supposed that they were lacking on the other wing too, but the available photos don't allow to see this.






Black 12


The second plane of the line, Black 12, raised much interest too. The spinner and the engine cowling, at least, seem to be painted aluminum, that was sometimes utilized as winter finish in absence of white paint; one has to say that aluminum paint was much more expensive and less camouflaging than white paint, so this use was forbidden, but if it was forbidden this means that someone was going this.

The central and rear part of the fuselage looks less shining, so it can be hypothized the use of white nitro paint instead of the MK-7 washable white distemper that was usual for winter camouflaged planes.

One can also note the darker area in front of the windshield and over the wings, that isn't justified by the light direction. The reflections under the tail stabilizator aren't what is expected by light blue or winter white paint.




Another photo of the nose of Black 12 seems to confirm the use of aluminum paint, at least on the top and sides of the cowling and on the spinner. It is unclear if this extended under the nose, or if the undersurfaces preserved a finish with Light Blue AII, gloss and not contrasting with silver; this looks more likely.

An interesting characteristic is the 'reduktor0,732' inscription on the right side of the nose, white on green background, and the starter tooth, similar to Il-2s, that allowed starting the engine with an external device.

Looking at the wing uppersurfaces of plane 12 and comparing them to those of the camouflaged plane on the background, it is clear that they aren't green nor black/green camouflaged.

Archive Zaika

The photo of Black 12 starts another peculiarity: the upper surface of the wings look relatively dark and uniform, not silver or white as expected, just as the area in front of the windshield, despite that they are in full light. They don't look camouflaged, nor dark enough to seem green. The resemblance to the area in front of the windshield is noteworthy.

In my opinion, it is not likely to explain this look with the use or white, green, aluminum or light blue paint.

Trying to imagine an explanation, one can suppose that in a first time the plane received an aluminum paint finish over the upper and side surfaces, instead of using MK-7 white; in a second time this livery revealed unsatisfactory due to the excessive shining that made the plane too visible and disturbed the pilot's sight, so the upper surface of the wings and the area just in front of the windshield were darkened with a layer of unidentified paint, perhaps a mix of light grey and green, while the id and rear sides of the fuselage received a layer of white; the light blue undersurfaces were preserved, at least under the wings and tail, while the nose preserved the aluminum layer.

The image allows to see the underwing rockets, unusually with light bodies and black fins.





After 02 and 12, the third plane of the row has a summer black-green camouflage, probably AMT-4/AMT-6 with AII light blue undersurfaces (glossy and lighter than the AMT-7 blue that gradually replaced it in late 1941).

A strange thing is that no any number can be surely seen on it, nor on the pair of camouflaged planes at the end of the row. Increasing the contrast on the fin, a sort of number, perhaps 21, seems visible, but only marginally lighter than the black paint. Perhaps it was some sort of very dark red.

Archive Zaika




Black 36

The fourth plane of the row is 'Black 36', characterized by the red star on the white or silver spinner and some panels of the nose painted in green or green/black, probably taken from another plane. Another distinctive characteristic is the black cap on the rudder.


On this photo, the spinner looks painted in clean white, but other photos show it painted aluminum.

This image shows the detail of the star on the spinner,contoured by a very thin black outline. On this image, the spinner itself seems painted aluminum, while the other upper and side surfaces are painted with a darker and rougher layer of whitish paint.

Again we see the inscription 'reduktor 0732', necessary to avoid to mount an unproper propeller on the planes.

The propeller, again, seems unpainted or painted with light paint.



The far planes of the row

The fifth plane of the row is red 39, followed by 85, 90, two black/green ones and a further white one with unclear number and dark spinner, possibly n.20.

Right: two version of an enlarged detail of the well known photo of the row.


Red 39

A detail of plane Red 39. The spinner looks clean white, while the prop blades seem worn black. The plane is a late type MiG-3 with slats and rockets.

On this plane, the blue shade of the lower surfaces looks markedly darker than the white uppersurface; this suggests the use of light blue AMT-7.

This photo of Red 39, although not sharp, shows clearly the size and position of the red stars under the wings.

Sharp detail of red 39, The flag on the rudder is clearly visible, and appears lighter than the red star, and of the same shade of the number 39. We can suppose the use of red paint that appears lighter because painted on the white background.

From Scalemodels.ru


Black 85

From the photos of the row, we see very few of the sixth plane, black (?) 85. It is a late type MiG-3 with rockets. The prop blades look dark on the rear face, light on the front. Canopy struts look to have preserved the summer camouflaging.

The only noteworthy characteristic is the dark color of the rear part of the spinner, that could be both green or red.


Red 90


The seventh plane of the row is red 90. Differently from all other ones shown in photos, it is an early type MiG-3, clearly distinguishable because the first exhaust stack is not hidden by an aerodynamic cover. The plane seem characterized by a clean white spinner and propeller and three black lines atop the tail. The canopy frames seem to have preserved the dark camouflage. The plane has underwing rockets as the other ones of the unit; being of early production, probably it hadn't slats unless the wings had been replaced with those of another plane.


?? + ??

After Red 90, there are two planes with black/green camouflage of which we can see very few. It is likely that they had some numbers on the fin, but they can't be seen nor read. The apparent lack of visible numbers on nearly all the camouflaged planes of this unit is surprising and still unexplained.



Red 93

The last plane of the row was white with a dark spinner and black blades and could be, or not be, the plane same vaguely visible behind the tail of red 02 on this photo. The increasing order of the numbers of the planes of the row suggests that, coming after n.90, it could be numbered 93. The photo of the row shows also what seems a red cap on the rudder.


Red 20

Plane red 20 seems not visible on the photos of the row, but it is well shown on this pair. It was a late MiG-3 with slats and rockets in standard white paint extended to the spinner and apparently to prop blades. The undersurfaces, relatively dark, seem painted with AMT-7 light blue.

The spinner of the closer plane, camouflaged, shows the non-standard starter tooth seen on some MiG-3s of the unit, and the inscription with the reduction rate 0,732.


The cap on the rudder, presumably red, is noteworthy.



Another camouflaged plane of the same unit, flown by lieutenant Sorokin, with ground crew observing a damaged wing. The photo was probably taken in a different day of the other ones.

Some interesting details are the front of the spinner, probably red, and the camouflage outlines, that are blurred on the front part of the plane but sharp on the rear part of the fuselage and on the wing.

Unfortunately the tail of the plane is not shown, so we can't know if the plane had numbers painted on.



Red 41


MiG-3 late, n.41, presumably in early 1942 on Vnukovo airfield.

The plane shows characteristics similar to known planes of 120 IAP/12 GIAP, as the two digits number on the fin and the white flag on the rudder only. The numbers 4 and 1 are misaligned. The upper part is probably red as the star; the lower part looks white, but probably it is a reflection due to the glossy paint and the change of inclination of the fin surface close to its junction to the fuselage.

The plane shows a standard black green camouflage, but the engine cowling was repainted with fresh black.

Note the rockets under the wing, as usual on that unit and timeframe.


Kryukov's plane

This interesting perspective shows the example n. 5015, flown by Capt. Konstantin Alekseevich Kryukov of 12 GIAP, probably on Vnukovo airport near Moscow in Spring 1942.
This example was produced on late 1941, armed by two machine guns UBS and two built-in batteries of ZROB-82 for rocket projectiles ROS-82. It was not provided with radio equipment, the relative wiring and the mast.

The aircraft looks painted with green/black camouflage with non-standard pattern and unusually sharp lines; probably it was fully repainted after the winter.


Image from "Unknown battles on the skies of Moscow" of Hazanov


On the image below, an interesting view of the same aircraft, probably from a movie. A small red 49 seems visible on the stabilizer root.

Image from "Unknown battles on the skies of Moscow" of Hazanov via C.F.Geust

Another image, probably another frame from the same movie, doesn't show anything resembling a '49' on the fin. It would be good to find the movie to decide whether there was any bort number there, or not.

The plane on the background shows an unreadable white number on the fin, a white cap and a more usual camo pattern.

Image via Viktor K

Another image from the same collection.

Since October 1941, Sergeant K. A. Kryukov was a pilot of the 428th IAP PVO equipped with flew the MiG-3. At the beginning of 1942, he was sent to the 120th IAP (that became 12 Guards IAP on March 7, 1942), and was soon appointed deputy squadron commander.

Image via Viktor K


Capt. K.A. Kryukov posing aside his plane.

Image  from "Unknown battles on the skies of Moscow" of Hazanov


Another image of the same pilot and probably of the same plane. The tail of another plane on the background still showed the winter camouflage

Image via Viktor K



Two views of the plane s/n 5105 of Kryukov. It is represented with a AMT-4 green/AMT-6 black/AMT-7 light blue livery with a somewhat unusual pattern as visible on photos.

The plane has the 5105 serial painted at the top of the rudder and fin, and the gear rate painted on the right side of the nose. The supposed number 49 on the tail was not drawn because of the uncertainty of the photos.

The plane was of late production, with slats, rockets and fixed tail wheel, probably armed with 2 UBS machine guns in the side slots on the nose; the central gun slot was probably closed.



Bibliography and links:









This work collects also a lot of photos and drawings from many sources, not always identified and mentioned.
If someone has some rights on the images here reproduced, please email to me and I shall provide to remove or to credit them.
While the historical photos are of public domain (except where otherwise stated), my color profiles and coloured photos are copyrighted.
If someone is interested in any use of them, please email me; higher resolution version is available for printing purposes.
If someone has questions, critiques or corrections, or some further images to show, please email to me.
Massimo Tessitori