|Problems in Attributing Ace's
Aircraft-- G.A. Rechkalov
There have been many cases involving the misattribution of
various aircraft to specific pilots-- usually to the higher scoring
aces-- over the years. By now, most VVS enthusiasts are familiar with
the better publicised cases: I-16 "11" to Safonov, Yak-1 "44" to
Litvyak, and so forth. However, these types of cases continue to be a
problem, despite the fact that Regimental records often do record the
tactical numbers, and such details, of the pilots' aircraft. In this
series, we will look to examine some of the more problematic examples
of such misattribution and see what, if any, sense can be made of the
actual historical situation.
Grigoriy Andreevich Rechkalov was born in 1920 in the Sverdlovsk area,
and enetered the VVS in 1938. Rechkalov was a keen pilot and determined
to qualitfy on fighter aircraft, and despite
early medical trouble he indeed went into action on June 22 1941 flying
an I-153. Regimental records of the 55 IAP show that this Chaika
tactical number "13" ["Bad luck for the Fascists", as
Pokrishkin later quipped]. Rechkalov then moved onto an I-16 (Type and
tactical number unknown), in which he was shot down and seriously
wounded on 26 July.
recovered in hospital, he returned to the 55 IAP and successfully
piloted a Yak-1 (unknown again). During the summer of 1942 the 55 IAP
was re-christened the 16 GvIAP for outstanding service, and in early
1943 began to transition to the P-39 Airacobra. Rechkalov was assigned
P-39D-2 s/n 41-38547 bearing the tactical number "White 40". At the
time of writing, only one blurred and partial image is known of this
aircraft, and no useful details are evident as regards personal
During the summer of 1943 Rechkalov received his
iconic P-39N-0 s/n 42-8747. This aircraft is legendary in the
photographic record, having been adorned with copious 'kill stars' on
the nose. Indeed, the smart appearance of this machine has led to
multiple problems, as virtually every pilot in the Regiment was
photographed standing in front of this Airacobra, and thereby it has
been wrongly attributed to them, as well. The most frequently
encountered spurious attribution of this aircraft is to Aleksandr
Pokrishkin, who was widely photographed standing in front of 42-8747 by
famous journalist G.N. Bey. Despite also being a similar N-0 model,
Pokrishkin's P-39 was s/n 42-9004 and carried the tactical number "White 100".
an N-0 model, Rechkalov's 42-8747 was equipped with two .30 cal guns in
the wings, as is apparent in the series of photographs showing
Pokrishkin writing documents on the wing surface. The aircraft was
delieverd in the usual appearance for 1942, having been completed in
Olive Drab over Neutral Grey at the plant in Buffalo where it was
built. However, the type of national markings this aircraft might have
had applied at the time of construction are not clear. Aircraft
completed to Lend-Lease contracts were finished with the curious
factory applied markings of a red star within a white circle .
These -Q models were built towards the middle of 1944 and still bear the odd red star in white circle L-L insignia.
was originally ordered as a P-39G model, of which none were completed,
and thus it might well have been manufactured on an USAAF contact; if
so, it would have been finished with the service's white star within a
blue circle. Photographs of 42-8747 seem to be in agreement with this
possibility. The port wing upper surface carries a star marking (in
agreement with USAAF practices) in the famous 16 GvIAP photos, and the
dark colour of the disc is consistent mainly with either the US
Insignia Blue colour, or possibly with A-24m Green, which at the time
did not yet exist. The disc itself is also perfectly round, showing no
hand application, over-painting or such like. Given this evidence, one
can then speculate that it must likely have been blue.
most importantly-- and surely most frsutratingly-- the Regiemental
records of the 16 GvIAP do not mention the tactical number carried by
42-8747. Is one to assume, then, that it did not feature one? Aircraft
in VVS service were seen without a tactical number, but such cases were
Rechkalov's last Airacobra was a P-39N-2 model,
42-2547 and this carried-- as confirmed by Regimental documents-- the
most curious "tactical number" of "White RGA". RGA, of course, stood
for Rechkalov's initials (it is usual in Russian to list the surname
first, followed by the first names, as in 'Rechkalov G.A.'), and as
such it would have been a very strange device, indeed. This aircraft
retained its wing guns and would have been delieverd on a Lend-Lease
meaning that it should have been painted with the
Now, this much we know much
from the documentary evidence. Wherein lie the problems with the
recreated appearances of Rechkalov's P-39s?
Firstly, in my own
view, the appearance of 42-8747 and 44-2547 have become confused and
inter-mixed without any real need for such confusion. A cursory glance
at the various photographs of the nose of the Rechkalov's Airacobra
show, quite clearly, that all of
the images depict P-39N-0 42-8747. At the time of writing there are no
known exceptions. In most cases the serial number is clearly visible
below the cockpit on the US Army stencil. To miss such obvious and
definitive evidence as this merely shows a lack of attention, and such
is obviously not acceptable. Moreover, in cases where the serial is not
clearly in view, the various details of the painting of these 'kill
stars' should by themselves be sufficient evidence. It is possible that
the general style, or even the same number, of such star artwork could
be replicated on another aircraft. But, to render an exact replica
of these markings-- with every tiny deviation, crooked star and minute
detail-- is simply not possible. When such details are identical, one
is looking at the same aircraft. Full stop.
is the earliest view we have of 42-8747. The beginning of the Army
stencil is in view and clearly states, "P-39N0-..." [the entire stencil
would read on that line, P-39N0-BE SERIAL NO. AAF42-8747]. In this
image there are 48 stars present, occupying most of the port gun bay
cover. Note the exact position and deformation of the individual 'kill'
marks, and the large metal flake missing on the exit fairing.
is an intermediate view with 54 stars, the last six of which do not
feature a white border outline. The serial number is not in view, but
the large metal flake is present, exactly as before, as are all of the
white outlined kill markings, to include every nuance of position and deformity. This aircraft is unquestionably also 42-8747.
finally, the last known appearance of Rechkalov's 'Cobra' nose. All of
the now 55 stars have a white trim/outline. Once again, the type
identification in the Army stencil is patently clear: "P-39N0-BE...."
How it is possible that this machine is persistently captioned as
P-39Q-15 s/n 44-2547 is beyond my understanding. The same
metal flake is present, and the precise nature of all the star markings
are identical; that this aircraft is obviously 42-8747 should pass
Sadly, although the nose of 42-8747 was widely
photographed, I am aware at the time of writing of no clear view which
shows the rear fuselage of this machine. We can speculate that it would
have carried an original USAAF national insignia on the fuselage,
likely over-painted with a white bordered star as had been done with
the port upper wing marking. The serial number would likely have
appeared on the fin/rudder in the usual way. There is no Regimental
record of the tactical number, and no known photograph which shows this.
authors have suggested that 42-8747 also carried the "RGA" fuselage
marking. I find this hypothesis to be extremely unlikely. When
Rechkalov received this aircraft he was a minor ace within the 16
GvIAP, and would have been unknown to virtually anyone outside of the
Regiment. It is certainly true that he later showed a vanity, ego and
thirst for personal attention which rankled many of his comrades
(Pokrishkin most notably), but at the time (when this -N0 model
arrived) it would have been spectacular, to say the least, to see him paint
his initials on his aircraft. When he later obtained anoither P-39N this was
at the very same time that Rechkalov was promoted to Regimental
Commander of the 16 GvIAP. In this role he would have the freedom to
paint anything he liked, and the stature to be seen often having done
it. Small wonder the Regimental records confirm the tactical number of
"White RGA" for his 42547.
There does exist some 16mm cine film
of one of Rechkalov's P-39s wearing the 'tactical code' "RGA". The three
stills, above, are taken from that material. A new view from the same cine material confirms the stripe features on the fin [image courtesy of Flavio Silvestri] and the serial number 42547. This is indeed Reckalov's P-39N-2.
The nature of the dark area below the national star appears
to be oblong and hand applied, with a suitably low-contrast appearance
which one would expect for lacquer A-24m over Olive Drab. This detail
agrees with the supposition that the aircraft was finished at the
factory in Lend-Lease type markings.
fair number of the 16 GvIAP's Airacobras seem to have sported a red
spinner in various
photographs dating from 1945. There is the mildest hint in the above cine film
(in another view) of such features possibly being present on "RGA". However, these
same decorations are often depicted on 42-8747, and this was certainly
not the case; the spinner, at least, is shown in several images and it
is clearly O.D. colour.
Therefore, with respect to Rechkalov's three known P-39 fighters, where does this leave us?
profile depicts what we know of Rechkalov's P-39D-2 s/n 41-38547. As
all D-2 models were built on a Lend-Lease contract, the "painting out"
method has been supposed here with regards to the national insignia (in
this case using AMT-4 Green). No other details are currently available
for this machine at the time of writing.
appearance of Rechkalov's P-39N-0 s/n 42-8747 is better understood, but
still incomplete. This view shows the ultimate appearance with all 55
'kill stars'. The original USAAF blue disc is evident on the fuselage,
as seen elsewhere on the port wing upper surface. No tactical number is
shown as no data exists at this time regarding such an item.
Pokrishkin's "White 100" was another N-0 model and it did not feature a
radio mast; consequently, with no proper photograph available, the
profile of 42-8747 lacks this item as well.
A close-up view of 42-8747's nose showing 48 stars. A close-up view of 42-8747's nose showing 54 stars.
A new and excellent photograph of Rechkalov's
P-39 s/n 42547 has emerged. To our surprise, we find that RGA was in fact a P-39N-2
model, and that it carries all 55 claim stars! For ever most observers had assumed that this must be a later
aircraft due to its odd 'name intitials' marking. Not so... Another
warning, should we need any, that assumptions are dangerous and liable
to be proved wrong.
The translation of the Soviet markings requirement as supplied to the
Lend-Lease Commission was for a national insignia consisting of a,
"...red star with a white surround...."
This instruction was universally misunderstood at the various American
aviation factories to mean a red star within a white disc (as was used on their own national markings). The Soviet Purchasing Commission had meant to request a white border
to the star. As a result, VVS units routinely (but not always) painted
out this white disc with a suitable lacquer to hand, most typically
AMT-4 or A-24m Green. When earlier examples of the P-39 arrived from
USAAF stocks (or manufactured contracts) with the current USA insignia
of a white star on a dark blue disc, these were generally left in place
and a red star added over the existing white star.