Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

General Major Grigorii Andreevich 'Grisha' Rechkalov HSU

9 February 1920 – 22 December 1990

Grigorii Rechkalov as a Kapitan wearing two Gold Stars of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

Grigorii Rechkalov was born on 9 February 1920 in the village of Khudyakovo in the Sverdlovsk region (now Yekaterinburg).
He was taught to fly in the Sverdlovsk aeroclub before joining the army in 1938. In 1939 he graduated from the Pern Military Air College. However he was grounded after a medical commission had diagnosed Daltonism but he nevertheless made it to a fighter unit and in 1941 he was posted to the 55 IAP. At this time he was a Serzhant. This regiment was based in Moldavia and had a variety of fighters on its establishment during the summer of this year. However, the eskadrilya Rechkalov served in was equipped with I-153s and I-16s.

During the opening weeks of the Great Patriotic War he flew an I-153 carrying a blue '13' on the tail, undertaking 30 sorties (6 sorties on 22 June and 7 sorties on 23 June beating up ground targets) in this aircraft and engaging in ten combats.

Between 13:45-14:55 on 26 June, ten MiG-3s and nine I-153s of 55 IAP escorted bombers of 211 BBAP and 45 SBAP. While approaching the target, one I-153 ’zveno’ was attacked by several Bf 109s. The Soviet biplanes became engaged in a dogfight and Mladshiy Leytenant Petr Grachev and Mladshiy Leytenant Rechkalov claimed a Bf 109 each.
While leaving the target, the I-153s strafed enemy infantry and artillery positions.
One MiG-3, flown by ’zveno’ commander, Leytenant V. Nosov, did not return to base.

From noon to 13:25 on 27 June, nine I-153s and five MiG-3s of 55 IAP covered the actions of six Su-2 light bombers of 211 BBAP in the Sculeni area. During this mission, Rechkalov attacked and brought down an Hs126, which fell to the ground, burning, 2km east of Boksha, near Sculeni.
Rechkalov mentions in his memoirs, that he actually shot down a ‘PZL-24’ – one of four such gull-winged fighters downed by his unit that afternoon.

On 11 July, he claimed one Ju 88 near Kotovsk.

There is some controversy in the various sources regarding the type of aircraft flown by Rechkalov when he claimed these three victories. Since the unit was equipped with both I-153s and I-16s, they could have been claimed flying either of these types.

At noon on 21 July, a group made up by Mladshiy Leytenant Figichev, Mladshiy Leytenant Rechkalov, Mladshiy Leytenant Grigoriy Shiyan and Mladshiy Leytenant Lukashevich of 55 IAP claimed a ‘Focke-Wulf’ over Synzherei (Sângerei).
Indeed, a sole reconnaissance Fw189A-1, 5D+5M of 4.(H)/Aufkl. Gr. 31, was lost this day with the entire crew, in the Yablonitzy area. However, it is unclear if this location is the same as Yablonitza, located about 80km west of Chernovtsy (Cernauti), some 100km distance from the place where the victory was claimed.

In late July, he was allocated an I-16.

On 26 July 1941, during a combat sortie between 12:55-13:40, Leytenant Rechkalov was part of an I-16 escort of I-153s from 299 ShAP. Near Dubasari, when the aircraft approached their target, they came under AA fire and Rechkalov was wounded in the right leg. Even after being attacked by Bf 109s he managed to reach his airfield and after landing, he was immediately sent to hospital.

Flying on the South Front the 55 IAP was designated the 16 GIAP on 7 March 1942. Subsequently the regiment was re-equipped with Yak-1s.
He returned to the unit April 1942.

By the end of 1942, he had claimed 4 and 2 shared victories in 20 combats.
At the end of 1942, the regiment was withdrawn and re-equipped with P-39 Airacobras. In the spring of 1943, they took their new fighters to the North Caucasus Front to fly over the Kuban River area.

On the regiment's very first mission with the P-39 on 9 April he and Pokryshkin both claimed a single Bf 109 in a dogfight at Krymskaya.
During this period, he was promoted to Starshii Leitenant, leading a zveno in the eskadrilya commanded by Kapitan Pokryshkin.

On 12 April, he and Pokryshkin scored again when he claimed one victory and Pokryshkin two.

On 15 April, he shot down a Ju 88 as his flight was breaking up a formation of bombers.

Following day, 16 April, he shot down a Bf 109 in the vicinity of Kholmskaya.

Next day he claimed two more Bf 109s, which crashed into the sea in the Anapa area.

He claimed two more Bf 109s on the 21st.

Eight days later six Airacobras with Kapitan Pokryshkin in the lead became engaged with four Ju 87s escorted by an equal number of fighters while prowling around the frontline area. Pokryshkin immediately ordered the attack personally tearing into the bomber formation while assigning Rechkalov to cover his attack. In the ensuing melee Pokryshkin and Rechkalov both made claims for two enemy fighters.

On 24 May 1943, he was decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for 12 and 2 shared victories claimed on 194 sorties and 54 encounters as of May 1943. He was to claim 11 victories in total during the Kuban operations.

In June, he became commander of the 16 GIAP's 1st eskadrilya.

He next saw action over the Sea of Azov, where he claimed two Ju 52/3ms and a Romanian Savoia Z.501 flying boat over the Black Sea during the autumn of 1943.

In spring 1944, he operated on the 4th Ukrainian Front over the Crimea.

The next action for the regiment was the Jassy-Kishinev campaign, which took him back to the areas where he had fought during the opening days of the war. Now however, he was a Kapitan and the deputy commander of the regiment. It is reputed that at this time he led the unit but was criticized by Pokryshkin for putting the pursuit of further personal victories ahead of proper leadership.
When Pokryshkin in May was promoted to commander of 9 GIAD, Rechkalov took command over 16 GIAP.

On 31 May 1944, Rechkalov was involved in a disastrous battle over Jassy. Messerschmitts succeeded in getting between the strike group led by Rechkalov and the covering group led by Alexandr Klubov, and five P-39s were swiftly downed.

At Pokryshkin's prompting, the Corps commander apparently then appointed Boris Glinka from the 100 GIAP as commander, removing Rechkalov, for according to Pokryshkin "losing control, indecisiveness and lack of initiative".

On 1 July 1944, he was decorated with a second Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for 48 and 6 shared victories claimed on 415 sorties and 122 encounters as of June 1944.

On 15 July 1944, Boris Glinka was seriously wounded when he bailed out of his badly damaged P-39 and struck its tailplane.
Rechkalov took over Glinka's duties as regiment commander again (still clashing with Pokryshkin).

On 16 July, he claimed a Ju 87.

On 6 October 1944 the president of the Bell firm (USA) awarded engraved watches with congratulatory letters signed in English to Guards Colonel A. I. Pokryskhin, Guards Mayor D. B. Glinka, Guards Kapitan Rechkalov, Guards Mayor B. B. Glinka, Guards Mayor K. G. Vishnevetskiy, Guards Kapitan Alexandr Klubov, Guards Starshiy Leytenant I. I. Babak, Guards Starshiy Leytenant A. I. Trud and Guards Kapitan M. S. Komelkov.
These pilots all had shot down twenty or more enemy aircraft as of 24 June 1944 while flying the Airacobra and were all decorated with the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union (Pokryskhin three times, D. B. Glinka and Grigorii Rechkalov twice).
The watches were presented to the pilots by the commander of the 2nd Air Army, General Stepan Krasovskiy. Mayor Vishnevetskiy received his watch posthumously since he was killed on 30 July 1944 in an enemy air raid.
After the death of Aleksandr Pokryskhin in 1985, his widow Maria placed his “Bell” watch in the Central Museum of the Soviet (now Russian) Army in Moscow, where it remain on display to this day.

The regiment then transferred to the 1st Ukrainian Front, taking part in the Lvov-Sandomierz operation. It then operated over Poland, and over the Weser and Oder rivers.

He resigned command of 16 GIAP in February 1945 and was appointed Inspector for Flight Training of 9 GIAD.

His last combat against the Luftwaffe was fought over Berlin in April 1945 by which time he was flying the Lavochkin La-7.

By the end of the war he had become the highest scoring pilot on the P-39 (44 victories), the majority of his sorties being recorded on P-39N-0 number 42-8747 and P-39Q-15 number 44-2547. During the war he was also decorated with the Order of Lenin, the Order of the Red Banner (four times), the Order of Alexandr Nievskii, the Order of Patriotic War 1st Class and the Order of the Red Star (twice).

Rechkalov ended the war with (probably) 3 biplane victories and a total of 56 and 6 shared victories. These victories were claimed on 450 sorties and 122 combats.

Rechkalov on the wing of his Bell P-39Q-15 Airacobra.

Rechkalov in front of his Bell P-39Q-15 Airacobra. The pilot on the wing is Boris Glinka.

Bell P-39Q-15 Airacobra flown by Rechkalov, 16 GIAP, at Prut, Soviet Union, on 1 July 1944.
The three letter code is "RGA" denoting his initials.
© Claes Sundin 1999
Image kindly via Claes Sundin (Luftwaffe Fighter Aces Aircraft in Profile).

Rechkalov remained in the Air Force after the war, graduating from the Air Academy in 1951. He retired in 1959 as a General Major. He has written two books about his wartime experiences - Dymnoe Nebo Voiny (The Smoking Skies of War) and V Nebe Moldavii (In Moldavian Skies).

Rechkalov lived in Moscow before passing away on 22 December 1990.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 26/06/41 13:45-14:55 1 Bf 109 Destroyed I-153 "13"   55 IAP
2 27/06/41 12:00-13:25 1 PZL P-24 (a) Destroyed I-153 "13" 2km E Boksha 55 IAP
3 11/07/41   1 Ju 88 Destroyed I-153 "13" near Kotovsk 55 IAP
  21/07/41 noon 1/4 ’Focke-Wulf’ (b) Shared destroyed     Synzherei 55 IAP
? 09/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39   Krymskaya 16 GIAP
? 12/04/43   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? 15/04/43   1 Ju 88 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? 16/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39   Kholmskaya 16 GIAP
? 17/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39   Anapa 16 GIAP
? 17/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39   Anapa 16 GIAP
? 21/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? 21/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? 29/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? 29/04/43   1 Bf 109 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP
? ??/??/43   1 Ju 52/3m Destroyed P-39   Black Sea 16 GIAP
? ??/??/43   1 Ju 52/3m Destroyed P-39   Black Sea 16 GIAP
? ??/??/43   1 Z.501 (c) Destroyed P-39   Black Sea 16 GIAP
? 16/07/44   1 Ju 87 Destroyed P-39     16 GIAP

Biplane victories: 3 destroyed.
TOTAL: 56 and 6 shared destroyed.
(a) Actually a Hs126.
(b) Possibly Fw189A-1, 5D+5M of 4.(H)/Aufkl. Gr. 31, which was lost with its crew during the day.
(c) Romanian.

From Barbarossa to Odessa: Volume 1 – Dénes Bernád, Dmitriy Karlenko and Jean-Louis Roba, 2007 Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-85780-273-3
P-39 Airacobra Aces of the World War 2 - George Mellinger and John Stanaway, 2001 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-204-0
Sovetskiye asy - Nikolay Bodrikhin, 1998, kindly provided by Ondrej Repka and Tomáš Polák.
Stalin's Eagles - Hans D. Seidl, 1998 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-7643-0476-3
Stalin's Falcons - Tomas Polak and Christhoper Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-01-2
Additional information kindly provided by Vladislav Arhipov, Christer Bergström and Ondrej Repka.

Last modified 27 October 2009