When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Pokryshkin was stationed in the Soviet republic of Moldova. During the first days of World War II, Pokryshkin shot down a Bf-109 fighter. On July 3, he was downed by Nazi flak cannons behind German lines, but managed to return to his unit in four days, despite his injuries.
In 1941, in severe storms and without armor on his aircraft (pilots called it the “dance macabre”), he was able to locate German tank army Panzer Group Kleist. The Russian forces stopped them near the town of Shakhty, but then lost track of the tank army as it disappeared into the woods.
Two pilots had been killed by the severe weather conditions on their mission to locate the tanks. Nevertheless, Pokryshkin took a risk and safely located the unit by following the caterpillar tracks of the tanks. This event won him the highest honor of the Soviet Union: the Order of Lenin.
Pokryshkin’s regiment was called to the rear in the summer of 1942 under a new commanding officer, where the unit was re-equipped with American-manufactured P-39 Airacobra fighters. Pokryshkin was quite fond of the Airacobras’ ample firepower. Several times during the war, directives from Moscow requested his units to consider switching to Russian-built aircraft such as the La-5 or Yak fighters, but he turned down the requests each time.
In 1943, Pokryshkin was deployed to the Kuban region in southern Russia. There, he invented new fighter tactics against German Luftwaffe units. On April 29, 1943, eight P-39 Airacobra fighters, one of which he piloted, attacked three squadrons of Ju-87 Stuka dive bombers escorted by Bf-109 fighters. As many as 12 German aircraft were downed in this battle, with Pokryshkin shooting down 5 of them. He considered it his highest achievement that all of this was accomplished without the loss of a single one of his supporting aircraft.
In September 1943, Pokryshkin shot down three Ju-88 aircrafts in a single pass. This further spread his fame as an ace pilot, because the move was performed at low altitude. Later that year, he took a flight on his own initiative and shot four transport aircraft U-2 over the storming Black Sea…