Alexander Pokryshkin

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Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin
First lieutenant Alexander Pokryshkin in 1941
Born (1913-03-06)March 6, 1913
Novosibirsk, Russian Empire
Died November 13, 1985(1985-11-13) (aged 72)
Moscow, Soviet Union
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Service/branch Flag of the Soviet Air Force.svg Soviet Air Force
Years of service 1932–1972
Rank Marshal of the aviation
Unit 55 IAP (16 GIAP)
Battles/wars Great Patriotic War
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union — 1943 Hero of the Soviet Union — 1943 Hero of the Soviet Union — 1944
Order of Lenin (6)
Order of Red Banner (4)
Order of Suvorov (2)
Order of the Great Patriotic War (2)
Order of the Red Star (2)
US Army Distinguished Service Medal

Alexander Ivanovich Pokryshkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Ива́нович Покры́шкин; 6 March 1913 – 13 November 1985) was a top Soviet flying ace and a Marshal of the Soviet Air Force. He was made a Hero of the Soviet Union on three separate occasions (24 May 1943, 24 August 1943, and 19 August 1944).

Pokryshkin was, in addition to his three Hero of the Soviet Union golden stars, awarded four Orders of Lenin, the Order of the October Revolution, four Orders of the Red Banner, two Orders of Suvorov (2nd class), two Orders of the Red Star, a number of other medals, and foreign orders, such as the US Army Distinguished Service Medal. Pokryshkin scored 47 of his 65 victories in American-made Bell P-39 Airacobras, making him the highest scoring P-39 pilot of any nation, and the highest scoring pilot flying any American fighter design.[1]

Pokryshkin was the great tactician of the Soviet Air Force during the Second World War. He almost single handedly fought to change the obsolete Soviet tactics that were in place in 1941 when the war started. Going against the totalitarian establishment and openly defying the totalitarianism-approved combat doctrine almost cost him his career and possibly his life. After openly criticising the official tactics that led to huge losses and teaching his fellow pilots new tactics he invented himself, he was grounded and scheduled to be court martialed. However the word of his inventions reached some superiors in Moscow, and instead of a court martial Pokryshkin was awarded and promoted. By the end of the war, his writings had been published and distributed to all Soviet pilots, and he toured fighter regiments extensively lecturing young pilots on his techniques.

Early years

File:Alexander Pokryshkin student.jpg
Vocational technical school student Pokryshkin ca. 1930.

Pokryshkin was born in Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk) in Tomsk Governorate, son of a peasant turned factory worker. He was of Russian ethnicity[2] He grew up in a poor, crime infested part of town, but unlike most of his peers he was more interested in learning than in fighting and petty crime. His nickname in his early teens was Engineer. He caught the "aviation bug" when he was 12 years old at a local air show, and the dream never left him after that. In 1928, after seven years of school, he found work as a construction worker. In 1930, despite his father's protests, he left home and entered a local technical college, where he received a degree in 18 months and worked for six more as a steel worker at a local munitions factory. Subsequently, he volunteered for the army and was sent to an aviation school. His dream finally seemed to be coming true. Unfortunately the flight school was suddenly closed, and all students were instead transferred to be trained as aircraft mechanics. Dozens of official requests were denied with a simple "Soviet aviation needs mechanics just as badly".

Pokryshkin still strived to excel as a mechanic. Graduating in 1933, he quickly rose through the ranks. By December 1934, he became the Senior Aviation Mechanic of the 74th Rifle Division. He stayed in that capacity until November 1938. During that time his creative nature became clearly visible: he invented improvements to the ShKAS machine gun and the R-5 reconnaissance aircraft among other things.

Finally, during his vacation in the winter of 1938 Pokryshkin was able to circumvent the authorities by passing a yearly civilian pilot program in only 17 days. This automatically made him eligible for flight school. Without even packing a suitcase, he boarded a train to flight school. He graduated with top honours in 1939, and in the rank of Sr. Lieutenant he was appointed to the 55th Fighter Regiment.

World War II

Early experiences

He was stationed in Moldavia in June 1941, close to the border, and his airfield was bombed on June 22, the first day of the war. His first air combat was a disaster. Seeing an aircraft in the air of a type he had never seen before, he attacked and shot it down, only to notice as it was going down that it had Soviet red stars on the wings. It was a Soviet Su-2 light bomber of the 211th Bomber Aviation Regiment, piloted by squadron commander M.I. Gudzenko . This was a new bomber type that was kept secret even from other Soviet pilots. He then frantically flew in front of all the other MiG 3 pilots who were lining up on the other Sukhoi bombers, thwarting any other "German victories" by other pilots of his unit. Gudzenko survived, although the gunner was killed.

He claimed his first victory, a Bf-109 fighter, the next day, when he and his wingman on a reconnaissance mission were jumped by five enemy fighters. On July 3, having claimed several more victories, he was shot down by German flak behind enemy lines and spent four days getting back to his unit. During the first weeks of the war, Pokryshkin began to see very clearly how outdated the Soviet combat doctrine was, and began slowly drafting his own ideas in his meticulously kept notebooks. He carefully recorded all details of all air engagements he and all his friends were involved in, and came up with detailed analysis of each. He fought in very complicated conditions: constant retreat, poor to no control and communication, overwhelming odds against superior opponent. He would later say "one who hasn't fought in 1941–1942 has not truly tasted war".

Pokryshkin survived several close calls during this time. A machine gun round drove through the right side of the cockpit, cut his shoulder straps, ricocheted off the left side and scratched his chin, covering the entire windscreen in blood. Twice, unexploded bombs landed between his feet, one time during a dramatic low-level raid on his airfield by a pair of Ju-88s. Pokryshkin tried to defend his fighter, one of the very few remaining serviceable aircraft, by removing a flexible machine gun from the nearby bomber and placing it on top of his fighter's fuselage. One of the German bombers saw Pokryshkin firing the only machine gun in the area and flew straight at him, dropping small bombs in a shallow dive. Pokryshkin watched a string of explosions running up to him, but the bomb that landed right next to him did not explode. The Ju-88 had dropped it too low; the bomb had insufficient time to arm itself before hitting the ground.

At one point, during 1941, after the unit had been moved to Kotovsk, the order was received that all 13 mm guns were to be removed from MiG-3s to be installed in new factory production aircraft. The only problem with this is that the MiG-3 was armed with a pair of 7.62 mm (.30 caliber) machine guns and a single 12.7 or 13 mm (.50 caliber) heavy machine gun. This left the aircraft under-armed, except that a 100 kg bomb was put under each wing, later exchanged for rockets, or even underwing gun pods with single 7.62 machine guns just outboard of the landing gear. The unit was starting to be used for ground attack. 10 I-16s were received for this purpose. MiG-3s were received occasionally, and then later the unit started to re-equip with previously-flown Yak-1s from other units for use as top cover. In the autumn of 1941, Pokryshkin, flying a MiG-3 (possibly winter-camouflaged), took off in sleet and rain conditions after two other pilots had crashed on takeoff. His mission was to locate von Kleist's 1st Panzer Group, which had been stopped in front of Shakhty, and then lost track of by the Soviet forces. After some time flying at low altitude, low on gasoline, in bad weather, he finally found them, and was able to return safely to base with this critical information. For the successful completion of this mission, he was awarded the Order of Lenin.[citation needed]

When the summer German offensive of 1942 began, part of 16 GIAP had been re-equipped with the Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter, including Pokryshkin's squadron. In that period Pokryshkin flew missions escorting Su-2 and Il-2 Shturmovik aircraft, and frequently was engaged by German fighters. On 17 July 1942, during a dogfight with Bf-109s, he became separated from his wingman Konstantin Figichov, and was jumped by a Rotte of Bf-109G-2 "Gustavs" flown by the experte Feldwebel Hans Dammers and his wingman Unteroffizier Kurt Keiser (7./JG 52). Initially Pokryshkin dived to escape, but realizing that the heavier and faster Gustavs would catch him, he performed a chandelle and then a barrel roll. This caused the Germans to overshoot, and then Pokryshkin shot down (and killed) Keiser at short range. Dammers attacked Pokryshkin again shortly afterwards, damaging his Yak-1. But once more Pokryshkin performed a barrel roll, forced Dammers to slide forward, and then shot down the German ace.[3][4]

In the late summer of 1942, his regiment was recalled from the front lines to convert to a new fighter type, the Bell P-39 Airacobra. While training in the rear, Pokryshkin frequently clashed with the regiment's new commander, Isayev (the former regimental navigator), who could not stand his criticism of Soviet air combat doctrine. Isayev fabricated a court-martial case, accusing Pokryshkin of cowardice, insubordination, and disobeying orders. Pokryshkin was grounded, removed from the regiment's headquarters, and had his Party membership cancelled. However, he was helped by his squadron mates, the regimental political comissar, and the divisional commanders, and he was soon vindicated. The 216 IAD's leadership dismissed the case against him, and reinstated him.


Pokryshkin's most significant contribution to the war effort and the most impressive kill record came during the battle for the Kuban region in 1943. The area east of the Crimean peninsula had seen heated air combat in the months that led to the Soviet assault on Crimea itself, where Kuban-based Soviet air regiments went against Crimea-based Luftwaffe Geschwader. Pokryshkin's regiment went against such well-known German fighter units as JG 52 and JG 3 'Udet'. The area saw some of the most heated fighting of the Eastern Front, with daily engagements of up to 200 aircraft in the air. Pokryshkin's innovative tactics of using different fighter types stacked in altitude, the so-called 'pendulum' flight pattern for patrolling the airspace, and the use of ground-based radar, forward based controllers and an advanced central ground control system led to the first great Soviet Air Force victory over the Luftwaffe.

In the summer of 1942, the 4th Air Army which Pokryshkin was a part of, received the first mobile radar stations. They were tested in aiding over-water interceptions of German and Romanian aircraft, and they proved highly successful.[citation needed]

In early January 1943, 16 GIAP (Gvardeyskij Istrebitelnyj Aviatsionyj Polk = Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment) was sent to 25 ZIAP (Zapasnoj Istrebitelnyj Aviatsionyj Polk = Depot Fighter Aviation Regiment, a unit tasked with checking that Soviet-made and Lend-Lease aircraft were ready for combat service) near the Iranian border, to re-equip with new aircraft, and also to receive new pilots. Many of these planes had to be ferried over from Iran. When there were delays in assembly by the Americans on the Iranian side, the Soviet pilots involved felt that the Americans were willfully impeding the war effort. It was at this time that the unit converted to the P-39 Airacobra, which when all had arrived, turned the unit into a 3-squadron regiment. 16 GIAP received 14 P-39L-1s, seven P-39Ks, the very last of which was assigned to Pokryshkin, and 11 P-39D-2s. The unit returned to action on April 8, 1943.

During the remainder of the month, Pokryshkin was credited with 11 Bf-109s and one Ju-88 destroyed.

He was credited with a Bf-109 destroyed on his very first Airacobra mission, on 9 April 1943, and scored four Bf-109 kills on 12 April 1943, one of his more successful days. He scored again on 15, 16, 20, 21, and 24 April - one Bf-109 on each day, adding a Ju-88 (probably in fact an He-111) on 29 April, plus one more Bf-109 on 30 April.[5]

One of his most famous engagements was on 4 May 1943. Eight of Pokryshkin's Airacobras were directed by ground control towards a large group of enemy planes: three squadrons of Junkers Ju-87 Stukas escorted by a geschwader of Bf-109s. Attacking from the sun, a pair of P-39s attacked the fighters while the remaining six dived through the bomber formation, repeating the attack twice with Pokryshkin's method of swapping dive directions. Twelve Stukas were claimed shot down, with Pokryshkin claiming five (he was officially credited with two). Later that same day he shot down another Bf-109.[5]

In most subsequent fights, Pokryshkin would usually take the most difficult role, attacking the German flight leader, who was often an aggressive experte. He had learned in 1941–42 that shooting down the flight leader would demoralize the enemy and often cause them to scramble home. Taking that into account, several such experten were almost certainly among his kills during the month of May. On 6 May 1943 Pokryshkin shot up a Bf-109, probably the plane of 9-kills ace Unteroffizier Heinz Scholze (4./JG 52), who crashed while trying to land at Kuteinikovo. Two days later, his victim might have been the Bf.109G-4 of Leutnant Helmut Haberda (an experte of 5./JG 52 with 58 victories to his credit), though the Luftwaffe credited the loss to Soviet flak.

Pokryshkin received his first Hero of the award on 24 May 1943, and was promoted to major in June, having become commanding officer of his squadron. On 23 June, he exchanged his old P-39K-1 USAAF Serial Number 42-4421, "White 13", for the famous (and, incidentally, unmarked by any victory stars) P-39N USAAF S.N. 42-9004, "White 100". He flew aircraft designated 100 for the rest of the war, such as P-39N-5 42-19185, after 42-9004 was damaged in August or September 1943, (as shown by the one known photo of it, leaning backward, with the overly extended nose wheel landing gear leg,and the aircraft's front resting on a saw horse), except for the test of the Berlin autobahn as a runway in Konstantin Sukhov's "White 50", which was much photographed.[6]

"Osvobozhdenie Ukrainy" - The Liberation of Ukraine

In mid-July the 216 IAD (now redesignated 9 GIAD) was deployed in southern Ukraine to help liberate the Donbass area. There he kept on beating German aces - on 23 July 1943 Pokryshkin shot down the 56-kills experte Uffz. Hans Ellendt, of 4./JG 52. Not only that, but occasionally also his P-39s escorted the Pe-2 bombers.

In that role, he used his nickname Sotka ("One Hundred"), e.g. his radio call sign, because he knew very well that the Luftwaffe ordered its airmen to stay in the ground if they knew he was in the air. A Pe-2 pilot of the 36 BAP, Timofey P. Puniov, recalled that, because of the heavy casualties suffered because of the German fighters, the 16 GIAP was tasked to escort them. Puniov clearly remembers that twice Pokryshkin violated the radio silence saying openly in the frequency: "Vnimanie! Ya - sotka. Poedu na rabotu!" (Attention! I'm "100". I'm going to work!). Neither on those two occasions nor since then onwards the German fighters tried to intercept the 36 BAP anymore.[7]

Shortly earlier, on 20 August, Isaev, who had been the Unit Navigator, and then been promoted to Commanding Officer, and with whom Pokryshkin had strong differences, took measures to have Pokryshkin stripped of his Hero of the Soviet Union, expelled from the regiment, and hauled before a tribunal. From 10pm that night until part of the following day, Pokryshkin, 298 IAP's Major Taranyenko, and the 16th Guards' Commissar, Gubarevim, and some "Osobists"(NKVD people.) were completing interrogations and investigations that lasted at least through the following day. Gubarevim, with difficulty, was able to clear Pokryshkin's name and reputation, and "Sasha" was thereupon awarded his second Hero of the Soviet Union on 24 August 1943.[8]

On 21 September 1943, Pokryshkin was involved in another high-profile air engagement. This one happened at low altitudes right over the front line. It was witnessed by dozens of journalists and representatives of the high command. Pokryshkin shot down three Ju.88s in a single pass, overcome by hatred, as he had just found out that the entire family of Zhmud, his mechanic, has been killed in German occupied territories. Only two kills were confirmed, the third Ju-88 being recorded as brought down by the explosion of the second one and not because of Pokryshkin's gunfire. All three Junkers are confirmed by German loss records - they were Ju.88A-4s of 5./RummKGr.[9] Earlier that same day Pokryshkin had added two more Ju.87s to his tally, almost certainly Ju.87D-5s of 6./StG 1.[9]


In February 1944, Pokryshkin was offered a promotion and an easy desk job managing new pilot training. He immediately rejected this offer and stayed at his old regiment and his old rank. He however did not fly nearly as much. Pokryshkin had been made a famous hero by the propaganda machine, and he was not allowed to fly as often because of fear of him getting killed. Instead, Pokryshkin spent a lot of time in the radio bunker, directing his regiment's fights over the radio. In June 1944, Pokryshkin was promoted to colonel and given command of 9th Guards Air Division.

On August 19, 1944, for 550 front-line sorties and 53 official kills, Pokryshkin was awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for the third time. He was the first person ever to receive the award three times, and he is the only Soviet soldier to be awarded this during wartime. Pokryshkin was forbidden to fly altogether, but managed to circumvent the rule a few times and still continued to score an occasional kill.

One of such occasions occurred on 30 May 1944 near Jassy, Rumania. The whole 16 GIAP engaged a large formation of Ju.87s heading towards the Soviet ground forces escorted by Fw.190s and Bf.109s. In the ensuing melée, the Airacobra pilots claimed to shoot down five Stukas, three Focke-Wulfs and one Messerschmitt without losses - three Ju.87s were shot down by Pokryshkin himself. The next time Pokryshkin scored victories was on 16 July, when he got credit for two more Stukas and one Hs.129 of 10.(Pz)/SG 9, probably the Henschel Hs.129B-2 of Hauptmann Rudolf-Heinz Ruffer, credited with 80 tank-kills. His last victory was another Ju.87, downed on 14 January 1945.

Out of his official score of 65 victories, only six were scored in the last two years of the war. The bulk of Pokryshkin's victories came during the time when the Soviet Air Force was still fighting at a disadvantage, including some of the highest scores for any Soviet pilot during the most difficult first year of the war.

After the war

When the Second World War ended, Pokryshkin found himself shunned[citation needed] due to his war-time preference for non-Soviet aircraft[citation needed]. In 1948 he graduated from the Military Academy in Frunze. Between 1949–1955 he was Deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Air Defense and the commander of the 88th Fighter Aviation Corps in Rzhev. He was repeatedly passed up for promotion. Only after Stalin's death did he find himself back in favor and finally promoted to Air Marshal. However he never reached a very high position in the Soviet Air Force, mostly serving in regional commander roles. In 1957 he graduated from General Staff Academy. After graduation, served as chief of fighter aircraft of the North Caucasian military defense. From 1959, he served in the 8th Army Air Defense separate (Kiev) and from 1961 to 1968 was Commander of the 8th Army Air Defense and deputy commander of the Kiev Military District Air Defense Forces.In 1968 he became Deputy Chief of the Air Defense Forces.

His highest position was as president of DOSAAF (1972–1981), a mostly civilian organization that was largely tasked with training young civilians and preparing them for service with the Air Force. Pokryshkin again found himself ostracized for his honesty. Despite strong pressure, he never wrote anything or supported glorification of premier Leonid Brezhnev's role in the battle of Kuban, where Brezhnev was a minor general. Pokryshkin died on November 13, 1985 at the age of 72. In Novosibirsk, a street, a square and a subway station are named in his honour.

He wrote several books about his wartime experiences, none of which appear to be translated into English.[10] He appeared in an episode of The Unknown War documentaries TV Series, "The Unknown War", specifically episode 9, entitled "War in the Air", and, at the beginning and end of the episode, spoke to the host and narrator, Burt Lancaster.

Aircraft flown by Pokryshkin

Pokryshkin started the war flying the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 fighter, in which he scored almost twenty victories. The unit was given the honor "16th Guards Fighter Regiment" in March 1942. At this time, or soon after this, the unit received some Yak-1s, in which Pokryshkin also scored victories. In January 1943, his regiment converted to lend-lease Bell P-39 Airacobras, which despite a persistent myth the Soviets never used in the ground attack role. Soviet pilots liked this aircraft, and found it quite competitive with the Messerschmitt Bf-109 and superior to the Focke-Wulf FW-190 at the low air combat altitudes common on the Eastern Front. Pokryshkin really enjoyed the 37 mm cannon's destructive firepower, and the two upper nose-mounted .50 caliber machine guns, synchronized to fire through the propellor (airscrew), in addition to the pair of .30 caliber machine guns mounted in each wing, outside the propeller arc and therefore unsynchronized. He claimed that the cannon's trigger, positioned at the top of the joystick, was impossible to push without moving the pilot's hand, which made the aircraft deviate from the gunsight, so finally he had his regiment's aircraft rigged so that a single button simultaneously fired cannon and machine guns. In his memoirs he describes many enemy aircraft immediately disintegrating upon being hit by the salvo. Pokryshkin and his regiment were repeatedly asked to convert to new Soviet fighters such as the La-5 and Yak-3. However Pokryshkin found Yak-3's firepower insufficient and personally disliked Yakovlev so he never did.

Finally, in 1944, he found an aircraft that he was willing to convert to: the Lavochkin La-7. One of his close friends, Soviet 50-kill (31 personal and 19 group) ace Alexander Klubov, was killed in a landing mishap while converting to the La-7. The crash was blamed on the malfunction of the plane's hydraulic system. Pokryshkin subsequently cancelled his regiment's conversion, and there are multiple reports that they instead began flying Bell P-63 Kingcobras. By the lend-lease agreement with United States, the Soviet Union was not allowed to use P-63s against Germany; they were given only to be used in the eventual battle with Japan. Thus it is quite understandable that no mention of this appears in any official records. However, personal accounts of German pilots and flak crewmen who encountered P-63s in the skies of Eastern Prussia as well as the memoirs of one of the pilots in Pokryshkin's squadron appear to confirm that claim. It is reported[11] that 9th IAD was given some 36 P-63s but these were not used while the fighting was still in progress.

MiG-3 aircraft were "white 5", "white 67", "4", and "7" and also "01" (likely the winter-scheme aircraft behind him in a photo) (perhaps not in this order). The likeliest order is "7", "4", "01" (winter 1941 – February 1942), "white 5" (shows "GVARDIYA" on the intakes – likely dates to when the unit was awarded this designation), and finally "67". He then flew Yak-1 fighters when the unit partially re-equipped with them. He flew a P-39K-1 "white 13" 42-4421 over the Kuban, converted in late June to P-39N-0 42-9004 "white 100", which was damaged in August or September 1943, around when he got P-39N-5 42-19158 (or possibly a different N-5) and on May 28, 1943, flew white 17", P-39D-2 41-38520 for a single mission, there is a photo of him post-mission bending to start removing his parachute straps in front of the nose of 41-38520 on May 28 1943, and in the famous photo taken using the Autobahn as a runway, flew P-39Q-15 "white 50", serial number painted out(originally assigned to K. V. Sukhov). He was given five La-7 aircraft with the inscription, "From the Workers of Novosibirsk to Hero of the Soviet Union Alexandr Ivanovich Pokhryshkin", but did not fly in them himself. An La-7-equipped unit was, in 1945, made a part of the 9th Guards Division, making it a FOUR-Regiment Division. At one point in 1944, he apparently was given an La-5FN for his personal use pending the hoped-for Lavochkin conversion of the entire unit.

The unit apparently flew P-63A or C Kingcobras after the war, and Pokryshkin would have again numbered his aircraft "100". Finally, one or more of the 9th Guards Fighter Division units may have eventually converted to the Yak-9P before his attendance at the War College in 1948.After his appointment as DOSAAF director in early 1950-s, he had use of a MiG -15, and, later, an IL-12 or -14.

Combat record

The most accepted figures of his combat record are:

  • 560 combat missions
  • 156 air-to-air engagements
  • Official score: 59 enemy aircraft shot down personally, and 6 together with other pilots

Note: based on Pokryshkin's memoirs and personal notebooks, his score stands above 100. The Soviet air force did not officially confirm kills whose wreckage could not be found, thus many aircraft shot down over enemy territory were never confirmed.

In recent years the actual amount of Pokryshkin's kills seems to become controversial, depending on the source. For example, Russian historian Mikhail Yurevich Vykov researched in official records of victories, and downsized his tally to 46 individual and 6 shared victories.[5] This author, together with Aleksandr Rodionov, wrote an article mamed Mutnoye Nebo 1941 goda ("The Murky Sky of 1941") stating that Pokryshkin tried to steal Rechkalov's kills during 1941.[12] However, researcher Oleg V. Levchenko found -based in other official documents, personal documents of Pokryshkin found after his death (that he kept away of his family) and memoirs of other Pokryshkin's comrades- that Pokryshkin in fact shot down 94 enemy aircraft, damaged 19 and destroyed three more in the ground. Levchenko found that no less than 15 victories he scored in 1941 were not taken into account, because the documents confirming them were destroyed during the hurried withdrawals from one base to another.[13] That might explain the difference between the figures of Vykov and Levchenko.

Other factor must be taken into account to solve such differences: Pokryshkin, as most other Soviet aces, also engaged in the common practice of giving his kills to fallen comrades. Each kill was rewarded with a substantial monetary bonus, and on the day of a pilot's death all regiment kills would often be credited to him in order to give his family some support. Note that the vast majority of Pokryshkin's kills have been scored before and during 1943 (when the quality of the Luftwaffe's airmen was higher), and since the summer of 1944 he had been absolutely forbidden to engage in air combat (and he sometimes disobeyed the order).

List of engagements and victories

This list is considered incomplete. It is based on Pokryshkin's memoirs "Poznat' sebya v boyu", combined with Vykov's work[5] and Polak's "Stalinovi Sokoli",[14] cross-referenced with available German loss sources.


14 confirmed victories (plus several unconfirmed), all flying MiG-3

  • 22.06.1941 - 'friendly' kill, Su-2; navigator killed
  • 23.06.1941: Probably Bf.109F-2 W.Nr. 5689, pilot unknown (50% damage), II./JG 3.
  • 24.06.1941: Probably Bf.109F-2 W.Nr. 6746 of 4./JG 3, Obfw. Erwin Kortlebel ( experte with 17 kills) or possibly Fw. Otto Kohler of 4./JG 77 in a Bf 109E-4(Trop) W.Nr. 4006 southeast of Chlodeni.[15]
  • 26.06.1941: reconnaissance flight, claimed to have shot down two Hs.126s. One was Hs.126 W.Nr. 3106, of 8.(H)/32crew; Oblt Wilhelm Mayer and crewman both KIA. The other was a Romanian PZL P.24, who escaped undamaged.
  • 26.06.1941: fought against four Bf.109s, shot down Bf.109F-2 W.Nr. 6741, pilot unknown (65% damage, written off), I./JG 3
  • 27.06.1941: in the first sortie of the day fought a group of Ju.88s and Bf.109s, shot down one bomber. In a second sortie escorted SB bombers, shot down one of the Bf.109s which tried to attack the SBs. His victims were:
    • Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 7131 of 4./KG 77, pilot Obltn Kurt Engel and three crew members all KIA.
    • Bf.109F-2 W.Nr. 5719 of Uffz. Ernst Winkler (17-kill experte ), 4./JG 3.
  • ground attack against enemy airfield, destroyed a Bf.109 on the ground
  • ground attack against Kishinev airfield, destroyed a Ju.87 on the ground
  • 2.07.1941: escorted SB, shot down one Bf.109 personally and one Bf-109 in group; his victim almost certainly was Bf.109F-2 W.Nr. 8249, pilot unknown, III./JG 3.
  • 3.07.1941: claimed to have shot down a PZL P.24. No Romanian loss matches this claim.
  • 5.07.1941: claimed to have shot down a Hs.126. No German loss matches this claim.
  • 22.07.1941: fought with four Bf.109s, shot down one of them, probably Bf.109E-7 W.Nr. 3765 of Hptm. Reinhard Heydrich attached to II./JG 77 (The Luftwaffe credits the loss to Soviet flak).
  • attacked reconnaissance Ju-88, shot up but unable to shoot down due to problems with armament
  • fought 3 Ju-88s, shot down one by air-to-ground rockets (not officially confirmed), officially credited for the second
  • fought four Ju-88s, shot down one.
  • escorted SB, shot down one Bf-109.
  • 5.10.1941: reconnaissance flight, shot down one Bf.109 - so far no German loss matches this claim.


7 confirmed victories, all flying the Yak-1

  • January and February — reconnaissance flights only, he founds Von Kleist's 1st Panzerarmee (still flying MiG-3). No air combats.
  • early March — shot down Hs.126
  • special reconnaissance missions flying a Messerschmitt fighter in German markings (the Bf.109E-7 of Nikola Vucina, a 15.(Kroat)/JG 52 pilot who defected to the Soviet side on 4 May 1942).
  • May — escort mission, shot down one Bf.109 and damaged another
  • reconnaissance mission, shot down Bf-110.
  • 17.07.1942 - Pokryshkin escorted Il-2s, shot down two Bf.109G-2s, flown by Feldwebel Hans Dammers (future 113-kills experte, 50 victories at that time) and his wingman Unteroffizier Kurt Keiser (7./JG 52).
  • 20.07.1942: escorting Il-2s, shot down a Bf.109G-2, probably 30-kills experte Leutnant Fritz Brückmann (KIA), 9./JG 52.
  • 28.07.1942: fought a group of Bf.109G-2s and shot down one, probably Croatian 16-kill ace Potpukovnik Franjo Dzal (who bailed out safely), commander of 15.(Kroat)/JG 52.
  • 1.08.1942: he fought a group of Ju.88s over Kropotkin, shot down one, probably Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 144092 of III./LG 1 (Obfw. Helmut Grubert and 3 crew killed).[16][17]
  • 2.08.1942: the 16 GIAP repelled a group of Ju.88s and Bf.110s attacking Kropotkin aerodrome. Pokryshkin got credit for three shared Zerstorer kills - Luftwaffe records confirm the loss of Bf.110D-4 W.Nr. 2262 of 7.(H)/LG 2 (Oblt. Walter Kôhler and crewman missing).


55 confirmed victories

  • 9.04.1943: His first victory flying the P-39 Airacobra. Making the debut of the pendulum and the "Kubanskaya Etazherka", he claimed a Bf.109 set on fire, out of a group attacking LaGG-3s. No Luftwaffe combat loss matches this claim, but 8./JG 3 reports the loss of Bf.109G-4 W.Nr. 14885 by engine failure. The pilot, Uffz. Reinhold Baisch, is listed as Missing.
  • 12.04.1943: in a swirling dogfight over Krasnodar Pokryshkin claimed to have shot down four Bf.109s (the last kill Pokryshkin scored saved a Soviet P-40). His probable victims were:
    • Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 14617, pilot unknown (35% damaged), 6./JG 3.
    • Bf.109G-4 W.Nr. 14952, pilot unknown (15% damaged), 4./JG 52.
    • Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 13879, pilot unknown (15% damaged), 4./JG 52.
    • Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 14842, pilot unknown, III./JG 3. (80% damaged and written-off. According to the Luftwaffe, it was an accidental loss).
  • 15.04.1943: shot down a Bf.109G-2, probably W.Nr. 14192 of 15.(Kroat)/JG 52 (55% damage. According to the Luftwaffe, it was an accidental loss).
  • 16.04.1943: shot down a Bf.109G-2, probably W.Nr. 19221 of 8./JG 52 (60% written-off. According to the Luftwaffe, it was an accidental loss).
  • 20.04.1943: shot down Bf.109G-4 W.Nr. 14955 of III./JG 3, which crashed in the Black Sea near the gulf of Tsemesskaya.
  • 21.04.1943: shot down a Bf.109, in fact caused 50% damage to Bf.109G-4 W.Nr. 14966 of 4./JG 52, which crashed in the Black Sea near the gulf of Tsemesskaya.
  • 24.04.1943: shot down a Bf.109 - no German combat loss matches this claim.
  • 29.04.1943: shot down a Ju.88, almost certainly Heinkel He.111H-16 of III./KG 55. All five crew members (included pilot Ltn. Hans-Peter Schickling) injured.
  • 30.04.1943: shot down Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 14787 (4./JG 52), wounding pilot Uffz. Ernst Kerkhoff .
  • 4.05.1943: shot down two Ju.87s and one Bf.109. No Stuka losses match these claims, but the Messerschmitt fighter is almost certainly Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 19219 of Ltn. Kurt Günther (9./JG 52, WIA).
  • 5.05.1943: shot down a Bf.109, actually 45% damaged Bf.109G-4 W.Nr. 19335 of Fw. Heinz Sachsenberg (6./JG 52, WIA)
  • 6.05.1943: shot down the leader of a group of Bf.109s, probably Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 13688 of 9-kill ace Fw. Hans Scholze (KIA, 4./JG 52).
  • 8.05.1943: shot down a Ju.87, and later shot down the leader of a group of Bf.109s.
    • Ju.87D-3 W.Nr. 110760, of 4./StG 77, crew unknown but both KIA.
    • probably Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 19555 of 58-kill ace Ltn. Helmut Haberda (KIA, Staffelkapitan of 5./JG 52).
  • 14.05.1943: shot down a Ju.87 - no Stuka loss matches this claim.
  • 29.05.1943: shot down Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 2553 of 9./KG 51, killing all four crew members.
  • 31.05.1943: caused 50% damage to Bf.109G-2 W.Nr. 13586 of I./JG 52.
  • 14.06.1943: claimed two Bf.109s shot down
  • 22.07.1943: shot down the Bf.109G-6 W.Nr. 19236 (60% damaged/written off) of Fw. Heinz Sachsenberg (6./JG 52 WIA)
  • 23.07.1943: shot down the Bf.109G-6 W.Nr. 20149 of 56-kill experte Uffz. Hans Ellendt (4./JG 52)

Mid August — transferred to new area; Airacobras often attacked by other Soviet pilots as the unfamiliar type looks like the Bf.109

  • 17.08.1943: claimed a Ju.88 - No German loss matches this claim.
  • 18.08.1943: shot down a reconnaissance Ju.88 above 8,000 m (26,000 ft), almost certainly Ju.88D-1 W.Nr. 430825 of 2.(F)/22), Hptm. Günther Sauer (Stafelkäpitan and crew killed.
  • 21.08.1943: shot down two Ju.87s, shot up one Bf.109 - No German losses match these claims
  • 22.08.1943: shot down a Bf.109, probably Bf.109G-6 W.Nr. 20533 of Uffz. Günther Müchnow (8./JG 52), who was injured.
  • 23.08.1943: shot down one Ju-87 - No German loss matches this claim.
  • 21.09.1943: shot down two Ju.87s, then later in the evening three more Ju.88s claimed over Bolshoy Tokmak, two confirmed.
    • Ju.87D-3 W.Nr. 31247, Fw. Walter Bock (MIA), gunner returned, 6./StG 1.
    • Ju.87D-5 W.Nr. 130767, Fw. Hans Plumm & gunner returned, 6./StG 1.
    • Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 8708, crew unknown, 5./RummKGr
    • Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 2009, crew unknown, 5./RummKGr
    • Ju.88A-4 W.Nr. 5768, crew unknown, 5./RummKGr
  • 7.10.1943: a reconnaissance Ju.88 - No German loss matches this claim.
  • one Ju-87
  • 5.11.1943: one Ju-52 over the Black Sea.
  • 6.11.1943: one Ju-52 over the Black Sea.
  • 19.11.1943: one Ju-52 over the Black Sea, near Tenderovskaya Kosa.
  • 28.11.1943: one Ju-87 - No German loss matches this claim.
  • 16.12.1943: shot down a Fieseler F.156 Storch.


4+ confirmed victories {+1 reported shot down}

  • 7.05.1944: a Romanian He-111H-6 No. 48 {Observer killed} See [2]
  • 16.07.1944: fought group of Ju.87s and Hs.129s, shot down three Ju.87s and one Hs.129. No Stuka losses match these claims, but 10.(Pz)/SG 9 lost three Henschels that day, including Hs.129B-2 W.Nr.141966 of Hptm. Rudolf-Heinz Ruffer, who had 80 Russian tanks in his tally, though it was reported hi aircraft took a direct flak hit over the Radtsiekhov-Stayanov railroad, crashing in flames.[18]

Note: Ruffer was shot down in area Stoyaniv - Radekhiv (now Ukraina). Pokryshkin's Hs 129 claim was located northern of Brody, what is approx. 50 km western far from Stoyaniv - Radekhiv.


1+ confirmed victories

  • 14.01.1945: his last victory, he shot down one Ju.87 - it might be the 37mm cannon armed Ju.87G-2 W.Nr. 494210 flown by Uffz. Johann Lacher of 10.(Pz)/SG 77, but Luftwaffe loss records credit the loss to flak.

Summary of victories

Bf-109: 34
Ju-87: 19
Ju-88: 15
Ju-52: 5
Hs-126: 4
Fw-190: 2
Bf-110: 1
Hs-129: 1

Total: 88


A minor planet 3348 Pokryshkin discovered by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh in 1978 is named after him.[19]

Honours and awards

Soviet awards
Hero of the Soviet Union medal.pngHero of the Soviet Union medal.pngHero of the Soviet Union medal.png Three times Hero of the Soviet Union (24 May 1943 - № 993, 24 August 1943 - II № 10, 19 August 1944 - III № 1)
Order of Lenin ribbon bar.png Six Orders of Lenin (22 December 1941 - № 7086; 24 May 1943 - № 9600; 24 August 1943 - № 124904; 21 October 1967 - № 344099; 21k February 1978 - № 429973; 5 March 1983 - № 400362)
Order october revolution rib.png Order of the October Revolution (5 March 1973 - № 1793)
Order of Red Banner ribbon bar.png Order of the Red Banner, four times (22 April 1943 - № 66983; 18 July 1943 - № 8305 / 2; 24 December 1943 - № 448 / 3; 20 April 1953 - № 1392 / 4)
Order suvorov2 rib.png Order of Suvorov, 2nd class, twice (6 April 1945 - № 1484; 29 May 1945 - № 1662)
Order gpw1 rib.png Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class (11 March 1985 - № 537 850)
Order redstar rib.png Order of the Red Star, twice (6 November 1947 - № 2762070; 4 June 1955 - № 3341640)
Order service to the homeland1 rib.png Order for Service to the Homeland in the Armed Forces of the USSR, 3rd class (30 April 1975 - № 0039)
CombatRibbon.png Medal for Combat Service (3 November 1944)
Defcaucasus rib.png Medal "For the Defence of the Caucasus" (1 May 1944)
OrderStGeorge4cl rib.png Medal "For the Victory over Germany in the Great Patriotic War 1941–1945" (9 May 1945)
RibbonLabourDuringWar.png Medal "For Valiant Labour in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (6 June 1945)
60px Medal "For the Liberation of Prague" (9 June 1945)
Caputureberlin rib.png Medal "For the Capture of Berlin" (9 June 1945)
Reclamining the virgin lands rib.png Medal "For Development of the Virgin Lands" (5 November 1964)
MilitaryVeteranRibbon.png Medal "Veteran of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (30 April 1984)
CombatCooperationRibbon.jpg Medal "For Strengthening Military Cooperation" (31 May 1980)
800thMoscowRibbon.png Medal "In Commemoration of the 800th Anniversary of Moscow" (7 April 1951)
1500KievRibbon.jpg Medal "In Commemoration of the 1500th Anniversary of Kiev" (17 May 1982)
100 lenin rib.png Jubilee Medal "In Commemoration of the 100th Anniversary since the Birth of Vladimir Il'ich Lenin" (20 April 1970)
20 years of victory rib.png Jubilee Medal "Twenty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (7 May 1965)
30 years of victory rib.png Jubilee Medal "Thirty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (25 April 1975)
40 years of victory rib.png Jubilee Medal "Forty Years of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945" (12 April 1985)
30 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "30 Years of the Soviet Army and Navy" (22 February 1948)
40 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "40 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (18 December 1957)
50 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "50 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (26 December 1967)
60 years saf rib.png Jubilee Medal "60 Years of the Armed Forces of the USSR" (28 January 1978)
Foreign awards
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg Distinguished Service Medal (USA)
60px Order of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, 1st class (Bulgaria)
60px Order of Tudor Vladimirescu, 2nd and 3rd classes (Romania)
60px Order of Karl Marx (East Germany)
60px Silver Cross of the Virtuti Militari (Poland)
POL Polonia Restituta Kawalerski BAR.svg Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (Poland)
OrdenSuheBator.png Order of Sukhbaatar (Mongolia)
OrdenZnam.png Order of the Red Banner (Mongolia)


  1. Saltzman, B. Chance; Searle, Thomas R. (2001). Introduction to the United States Air Force. Airpower Research Institute, Air University Press. p. 114. ISBN 9781428926219.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. [1]
  3. Pokryshin, p.204-206
  4. Bergstrom, Dikov, Antipov p.43
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Mikhail Vykov (2008) p.1037-1038
  6. Lend-Lease Aces of World War 2, Osprey Books, Aerokobrui Had Kubanyu, footnote 75
  8. Lend-Lease Aces of World War 2, Osprey Publishing, by George Mellenger and footnote 75, "Aerokobrui Nad Kubanyu ("Aerokobras over the Kuban")
  9. 9.0 9.1 LW Loss Report (microfilm roll #11)-Vol. 21
  10. see the episode of the TBS Series, "The Unknown War" entitled "War in the Air"
  11. Soviet Lend-Lease Aces of World War 2
  13. Pokryshkin p.7 (Preface written by his son, Aleksandr A. Pokryshkin)
  14. Polak and Shores, 2.cast p.120-121
  16. Pokryshin p.220-221
  17. Bergstrom, Dikov, Antipov p.70
  19. Dictionary of Minor Planet Names - p.279


  • Pokryshkin's tactic drawings
  • Pokryshkin's tactic drawings 2
  • Pokryshkin, Aleksandr Ivanovich. Poznat' sebya v boyu (Know yourself in combat). ZAO Tsentrpoligraf, 2006. ISBN 978-5-9524-4788-2
  • Juszczak, Artur and Pęczkowski, Robert. Bell P-39 Airacobra. Sandomierz, Poland/Redbourn, UK: Mushroom Model Publications, 2003. ISBN 83-916327-9-2
  • Loza, Dmitriy and Gebhardt, James F. (transl.). Attack of the Airacobras: Soviet Aces, American P-39s & the War Against Germany. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2002. ISBN 0-7006-1140-1.
  • Mellinger, George and Stanaway, John. P-39 Airacobra Aces of World War 2. Botley, Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing Ltd., 2001. ISBN 1-84176-204-0
  • Mellinger, George, Soviet Lend-Lease Aces of World War 2. Botley Oxfort, UK: Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2006. ISBN 1-84603-041-2
  • Christer Bergstrom, Andrey Dikov & Vlad Antipov. Black Cross – Red Star. Air War over the Eastern Front. Volume 3. Everything for Stalingrad. Eagle Editions Ltd., 2006. ISBN 0-9761034-4-3
  • Roman, V., Aerokobrui Vstupayout V Boi ("The Airacobras Enter Into Battle"), {Cyrillic}, [Fighter Series], Kiev, Ukraine, 1993: Kiyev-skaya Fabrika Drukovanoy reklamy, 1993, later SPD Romanenko, V.D.
  • from Translation by D.C. Montgomery via Ray Wagner, The Airacobra Aircraft in Soviet Aviation (partial translation of unit battle histories, "Aerokobrui Vstupayut V Boi"), American Aviation Historical Society Journal, Volume 43 Number 4, Winter 1998, Publication Number 0130-930, Santa Ana, California.
  • Mijail Yurevich Bykov (2008). Асы Великой Отечественной Войны. Самые результативные лётчики 1941-1945 гг. (Asy Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voyny. Samye rezultativnye liotchiki 1941-45 gg), Yauza-EKSMO, Moskow. ISBN 978-5-699-20526-4
  • Roman, V., Aerokobrui Nad Kubanyu ["Aerokobras Over the Kuban"] {Cyrillic}, Kiev, Ukraine, SPD Romanyenko, V.D.. ("Avia'Retro") [Fighter Series], 2006 ISBN 966-95807-3-0
  • Morgan, Hugh. Soviet Aces of World War 2. London: Reed International Books Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-85532-632-9.

Turner Broadcasting System, "The Unknown War" hosted by and narrated by Burt Lancaster; Episode 9: "War in the Air", 1978, shown July or August, 1978; episodes originally broadcast one a week, if contributor's memory serves.

Article noting he at one time flew a MiG-15 Photo in color of an IL-14 (square fin/rudder) captioned as having been Pokryshkin's aircraft.