Pokryshkin, Aleksandr Ivanovich, born 19-03-1913 in Novonikolayevsk (now Novosibirsk) in Tomsk Governorate, son of a Russian peasant-turned-factory worker. He grew up in a poor, crime-ridden 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. 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 explanation: “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 with the rank of senior lieutenant he was assigned to the 55th Fighter Regiment.
His first involvement in 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 Mikhail 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 Soviet losses by other pilots of his unit. Luckily, squadron commander Mikhail Gudzenko survived, although the navigator was killed.
He claimed his first shootdown of an enemy aircraft when he shot down a Bf 109 the next day, while he and his wingman were on a reconnaissance mission, and were jumped by five enemy fighters. On 3 July, 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 started slowly drafting his own ideas in his meticulous 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-controlling and communication from HQ, and overwhelming odds versus a superior opponent. He would later say “one who hasn’t fought in 1941–1942 has not truly tasted war”
Pokryshkin’s, here with his wife Maria and child 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 vicious air combat in the months that led to the Soviet assault on Crimea itself, where the Kuban-based Soviet air regiments flew against Crimea-based Luftwaffe Geschwader. Pokryshkin’s regiment fought against such renowned German fighter units as Jagdgeschwade/Squadron 52 and JG 3 ‘Udet’. The area saw some of the most fierce fighting on 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, contributed to the first great Soviet Air Force victory over the Luftwaffe.
In the summer of 1942, the 4th Air Army in which Pokryshkin served received their first mobile radar stations. They were tested in directing interceptions of German and Romanian aircraft over water, and they proved highly successful. On 04-05-1943 Pokryshkin gained three confirmed kills – two Ju 87 and a Bf 109.
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. However, he did not fly nearly as much as before. 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 19-08-1944, 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 receive the award three times 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 30-5-1944 near Jassy, Rumania. The whole 16th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment 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, age 24, Staffelkapitän 10. Schlachtgeschwader 9; , credited with 80 tank-kills. His last victory was another Ju 87, downed on 14-01-1945.
In 1948 he graduated from the Frunze Military Academy. Between 1949–1955 he acted as deputy commander of the 33rd Fighter Air Defense and the commander of the 88th Fighter Aviation Corps in Rzhev. He was repeatedly passed-over for promotion, possibly because he was just too intelligent (or honest) for Stalin’s comfort. Only after Stalin’s death did he find himself back in favour and finally promoted to Air Marshal.
Death and burial ground of Pokryshkin, Aleksandr Ivanovich “Engineer”.
Pokryshkin died on 13-11-1985 at the age of 72 in Moscow. In Novosibirsk, a street, a square and a subway station are named in his honour. Aleksandr Pokryshkin is buried on Novodevichy Cemetery Moscow, Moscow Federal City, Russia, Plot Section 7, Row 21,
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