Guchkov, Aleksandr (Ivanovich)

Aleksandr Ivanovich Pokryshkin (Александр Иванович Покрышкин March 6, 1913November 13, 1985) was a marshal of the Soviet Air Force. He was made a Hero of the Soviet Union on three separate occasions (1943, 1943, 1944).

Pokryshkin was the great tactician of the Soviet Air Force during the Second World War, a Russian Werner Mölders. He almost singlehandedly fought to change the obsolete Soviet tactics that were in place in 1941 when the war started. Going against the establishment and openly defying the party-approved combat doctrine almost cost him his career and possibly his life. After openly criticizing 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

Pokryshkin was born in Novosibirsk, son of a peasant turned factory worker. 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 infantry 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 honors 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, in close proximity to the border, and his airfield was bombed on June 22, 1941, 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, a new bomber type that was kept in 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. The Su-2 pilot survived, although the gunner was killed.

He claimed his first victory, the famed Bf-109 fighter the next day, when he and his wingman on a reconnaissance mission were jumped by five enemy fighters. On July 3rd, 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 event. 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 scratching 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, and 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 tank 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 this 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.

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, who could not stand his criticism of the Soviet air combat doctrine. The commander 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 soon vindicated, when superiors intervened, 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 51 'Mölders', 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 grand Soviet Air Force victory over the Luftwaffe.

In the summer of 1942 the 4th Air Army in which Pokrishin's was a part of received the first mobile radar stations which were tested in aiding over-water interceptions of German and Romanian aircraft, that proved highly successful.

One of the most famous engagements he was involved in took place on April 29, 1943. Eight of Pokryshkin's Airacobras were directed by ground control towards a large group of enemy planes. Three whole squadrons of the obsolescent Junkers Ju-87 Stukas were being escorted by a geschwader of Bf-109s. Attacking from the sun, a pair of P-39s attacked the fighters while the remaining six dove through the bomber formation, repeating the attack twice using Pokryshkin's method of swapping dive directions. Twelve Stukas were claimed shot down, with Pokryshkin claiming five.

In most subsequent fights Pokryshkin would usually take the most difficult role, attacking the leader of the German fighter escorts. As he learned in 1941–42, shooting down the flight leader would have a very strong demoralizing effect on the enemy and often would cause them to scramble home. On September 21, 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 high command. Pokryshkin shot down three Ju-88s in a single pass, either showing off or overcome by hatred as he had just found out a close friend's entire family 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 Pokryshkin's gunfire.


In February 1944, Pokryshkin was offered a promotion and an easy desk job managing new pilot training. He immediately rejected the 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 being 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.

Out of his official score of 65 victories, only 6 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 due to his war-time preference for non-Soviet aircraft. He was repeatedly passed up for promotion. Only after Stalin's death did he find himself back in favor, and finally given the rank of Air General. However he never reached very high positions in the Soviet Air Force, mostly serving in regional commander roles. His highest position was a president of DOSAAF, 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 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 war-time experiences, none of which appear to be translated into English. He appeared in several episodes of the Unknown War documentaries narrated by Burt Lancaster.

Aircraft flown by Pokryshkin

Pokryshkin started the war flying the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 fighter, in which he scored almost twenty victories. In August 1942 his regiment, now renamed 16th Guards Fighter 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 attitudes common on the Eastern Front. Pokryshkin really enjoyed the 37mm cannon's destructive firepower, and had his own aircraft rigged so that the single button simultaneously fired both the main cannon and the 2 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 propellor arc and therefore unsynchronized. In his memoirs he describes any 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 Alexander Sergeyevich Yakovlev's Yak fighter series. However Pokryshkin found La-5'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. Unfortunately 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 fact.

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 likliest 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" 42-442_ over the Kuban, converted in late June to P-39N-0 42-9004 "white 100", and on May 28, 1943, flew "white 17", 41-38520 for a single mission, 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 5 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 post 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.

Aleksandr Pokryshkin was, in addition to his three Hero of the Soviet Union golden stars, awarded four Orders of Lenin, 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 USAAF (US Army) Distinguished Service Medal which he is seen wearing below his other medals in some photographs, such as the one of him for this article, in which it is the lower-right-hand medal seen on him in the photo.

Combat record

  • 560 combat missions
  • 156 air fights
  • 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. 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. 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 of 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 1943, and since the summer of 1944 he had been forbidden to engage in air combat completely. His score could have been significantly higher had he been allowed to fly in the last year of the war, when Soviet Air Force dominated the air over the Eastern Front.

List of engagements and victories

This list is considered incomplete. It is based on Pokryshkin's memoirs.

1941: 14 confirmed victories (plus several unconfirmed)

  • 06.22.41 - 'friendly' kill, Su-2; killed the plane's navigator
  • 06.23.41 - Bf-109E
  • 06.24.41 - Bf-109E
  • reconnaissance flight, shot down two Hs-126
  • fought with four Bf-109s, shot down 1 Bf-109
  • fought a group of Ju-88s and Bf-109s, shot down 1 Ju-88
  • escorted SB-2 bombers, shot down Bf-109
  • ground attack against enemy airfield, destroyed Bf-109 on the ground
  • ground attack against Kishinev airfield, destroyed Ju-87 on the ground
  • escorted SB-2s, shot down 1 Bf-109 personally and one Bf-109 in group;
  • fought with four Bf-109s, shot down 1 Bf-109
  • 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
  • reconnaissance flight, shot down Hs-126
  • fought four Ju-88s, shot down one
  • escorted SB-2s, shot down one Bf-109
  • reconnaissance flight, shot down one Bf-109

1942: 7 confirmed victories

  • January and February - reconnaissance flights only, no air combat
  • early March - shot down Hs-126
  • special reconnaissance missions flying a captured Bf-109 in German markings
  • May - escort mission, shot down one Bf-109 and damaged another
  • reconnaissance mission, shot down Bf-110
  • escorted Il-2s, shot down Bf-109
  • escorted Il-2s, shot down Bf-109
  • fought a group of Bf-109s, shot down one
  • fought a group of Ju-88s, shot down one

1943: 55 confirmed victories
Before April 17

  • fought a group of Bf-109s, shot down one
  • shot down Bf-109 and Ju-88
  • April 11
    • four Bf-109s in a single engagement
    • another sortie, shot down Ju-87
    • third sortie, shot down Ju-88
  • April 12(?) - three Bf-109s in two engagements
  • three Ju-87s in a single engagement
  • one Bf-109

Between April 18 and April 21

  • escorted Pe-2s, shot down Bf-109, shot up FW-190
  • escorted Pe-2s, shot down Bf-109
  • April 21 - escorted Il-2s, shot down Bf-109
  • escorted Pe-2s, shot down FW-190
  • escorted Pe-2s, shot down Bf-109
  • April 29 - intercepted Ju-87s, shot down five
  • fought group of Ju-87s and Bf-109s, shot down two Ju-87s

Between May 5 and May 10

  • one Bf-109
  • intercepted group of Ju-88s, shot down 3, 2 confirmed (1 personal and 1 group)

Before the end of May

  • escorted Pe-2s, shot down Bf-109;
  • intercepted Bf-109s, shot down 1
  • intercepted Bf-109s, shot down 1
  • intercepted Bf-109s, shot down 1
  • intercepted Bf-109s, shot down 2
  • May 29 - shot down two Ju-88s
  • June, shot down one Bf-109, scored three other victories

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

  • shot down Ju-88
  • shot down reconnaissance Ju-88 at altitude above 8,000 m (26,000 ft)
  • August 21, shot down two Ju-87s, shot up one Bf-109
  • one Ju-88
  • one Ju-87
  • September 21 - three Ju-88s shot down, two confirmed
  • reconnaissance Ju-88
  • one Ju-87
  • five unescorted Ju-52s

1944: 4+ confirmed victories {+1 reported shot down}

  • May 7 - a Romanian He-111H-6 No. 48 {Observer killed} See
  • July 16 - fought group of Ju-87s and Hs-129s, shot down three Ju-87s and one Hs-129

1945: 1+ confirmed victories

  • mid-January - shot down one Ju-87

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.




  • 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.
  • Morgan, Hugh. Soviet Aces of World War 2. London: Reed International Books Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-85532-632-9.

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