If you head over to my recommended reading lists you’ll notice that I have a high overall interest in the United States, Russia and Vietnam. I also like to challenge myself whenever possible with new thought or ideas if the topic is interesting enough. One of those topics are within aviation and specific people within that field during World War II. What better way to introduce the topic than a quick hit list of the top 10 Soviet Aces of World War II? Below there are 11 but this is primarily due to the questionable numbers of one individual which may maneuver him around or out of the Top 10 and I didn’t want to deprive the 11th of such a prestigious list.

There are a number of ways to categorize this list. Should we include total victories? Just those the individual took down themselves? Or shared victories? In order to organize this list, I decided that solo or individual victories were more noteworthy and interesting and therefore that is how they shall be ranked. I will still include their totals and shared victories when applicable.

11. Sergey Morgunov

Individual 41 – 41 Total

Sergey edges into the top 10 (11?) with 41 total victories, all attained solo. He originally joined the Soviet Air Force in 1937 and fought through World War II (The Great Patriotic War) with 41 victories. He received Hero of the Soviet Union Award but died in a plane crash shortly afterward in 1946.

10. Nikolai Krasnov

Individual – 41 – Total 42 – Shared 1

Dispute: Perhaps up to 44 individual

Krasnov joined in 1930 and was eventually a test pilot for newer models. During the war he was shot down a few times, one time surviving on his own for 9 days after burning his plane so the Germans couldn’t get turn it around for their own use. By the end of his life he had fought in over 100 battles and had 41 victories, perhaps up to 44 due to some accounts. He died toward the end of World War II near Budapest, Hungary after his engine failed.

9. Nikolai Skomorokhov

44 Individual – 47 Total – Shared 3

Dispute: Perhaps 2 Shared

Skomorokhov almost made no lists at all when during one of his first outings he was separated by his squadron and chased by a number of Messerschmitts. Luckily for him he was able to escape to score his first victory, a shared victory, over an Fw 190 on 2 January 1943. His successes continued and he was appointed as the deputy commander of a squadron of aces. This appointment lasted a brief time as his and other squadrons were left without their great aces. He fought in over 140 dogfights and was never downed or wounded. He continued after World War 2 until his retirement in 1992. He died in a car crash roughly 2 years later.

8. Arseny Vorozheykin

45 Individual – 46 Total – 1 Shared

Vorozheykin initially joined the Red Army in 1931 but by 1937 he shifted, graduating from the Kharkov Military Aviation School of Pilots. Here was was set up within a Bomber Aviation Regiment. He fought briefly against Japanese over Mongolia before being sent in 1940 to the Soviet-Finnish War. During World War II he ultimately fought in the battles for Belgorod, Kiev, Kharkov, Lutsk, among others. A number of his aerial victories occurred in the east in the Battle of Khalkin Gol. Vorozheykin’s service ran until 1957.

7? Alexander Pokryshkin

45 Individual – 49 Total- 4 Shared

Disputed: Many

One of Pokryshkin’s first shoot downs occurred when he shot down the Soviet’s own bomber. It was a secret type which hadn’t been revealed to him or his squadron yet and before his group could shoot down others, he maneuvered his plane to block potential friendly fire on the new Soviet bomber types. His first enemy victory occurred, he claims, through shooting down a Bf 109 after having been intercepted by five enemy fighters. While he was a good pilot, he excelled at analysis, keeping a detailed notebook of his ideas for craft and writing accounts of his engagements of which he shared with his friends. In spite of this, he rubbed some members of the military the wrong way and he was eventually grounded and even had his Party membership canceled before his reinstatement.

Pokryshkin’s official numbers are difficult to come by due to his over-inflated accounts and difficulty in further verification. This means his position on this list could be shifted.

6. Alexander Koldunov

46 Individual – 47 Total – 1 Shared

Koldunov joined the army in early 1941 but graduated to flight in 1943. His victories were many but a notable instance occurred during the air battle over Niš. Here, he defended Soviet ground troops who came under fire from American fighters. Casualties on both sides remain muddied but Soviets were definitely killed along with lieutenant-general Grigory Kotov. By the end of the war he flew in over 400 sorties and fought in 96 aerial engagements.

5. Dmitry Glinka

50 Individual – 50 total

Glinka cut his teeth as a fighter pilot in the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran. During World War II, Glinka was injured a few times, the first roughly a month after his first victory. After being shot down in a dog fight over Crimea in 1942, he received a concussion and had to spend months in the hospital. Later in the war he even received a fragment due to an explosive through his leg but he soon resumed his effort in the war. He flew a number of different fighters to reach his total of individual victories of 50.

4. Kirill Yevstigneyev

53 Individual – 56 Total – 3 Shared

Kirill carries an incredible story on the back of his many victories. After having been shot down by friendly fire he parachuted out of his burning plane, himself being badly burned. While surgeons had wanted to amputate his foot, he escaped, fleeing 35 kilometers on crutches to the next nearest airfield. Eventually he returned to his airfield and flew his following combat mission while still needing crutches to get around. He attained his last solo victory over Budapest on 26 March 1945 raising his tally to 53 individual victories, 56 total.

3. Nikolai Gulaev

55 Individual – 60 Total – 5 Shared

Gulaev scored his first victory after taking his own initiative and taking flight during the night. He was able to shoot down an enemy aircraft but was reprimanded and congratulated for his efforts as he didn’t have permission to fly given his inexperience. Notably he made himself an ace in a single day, within less than five minutes actually, after shooting down five on his own while his squad shot down an additional six. In spite of his high number of victories, Gulaev flew only 200 combat sorties and engaged with the enemy 69 times. It would place him among one of the highest kill ratios in the war. He eventually retired in 1979 and died six years later.

2. Grigory Rechkalov

61 Individual – 65 Total – 4 Shared

Some dispute: At least 56 solo and perhaps 5 shared

A color blind pilot who was only allowed to fly at the beginning of the war, Rechkalov scored an incredibly high 61 solo victories. Five days into his first combat flight he had his first victory. After receiving a wound through the leg which required multiple surgeries and months rehabilitating, he was able to return to the fight in the spring of 1942. By the end of the year his 16th Regiment was equipped with new P-39 Airacobras, a gift from the Americans likely through Alaska-Siberia. While continuing to rack up victories, he was seriously injured again in 1944 when he bailed out of his plane only to hit the tailplane of his P-39. His numbers jump anywhere from 56 individual victories and 6 shared to 61 individual victories and 4 shared. Rechkalov remained with the military until 1959 and died in late 1990.

1. Ivan Kozhedub

64 Individual – 64 total

Some dispute: Estimates vary but at least 60 individual victories

Kozhedub received his first of many victories with the Soviet La-5 after shooting down a Ju 87 dive bomber in July 1943. Notably, Kozhedub and Yevstigneyev were friends and while they didn’t fly together, they often exchanged experiences and tactics which no doubt aided both of them to attain their high numbers. He’s noted as having engaged in 120 dogfights and downing 64 enemy aircraft, although some notes claim a number of 60. He did have a unique fighting style which wasn’t taught in the Soviet school due to its risky nature of moving to a target from below and opening fire when extremely close. In spite of the risks, Kozhedub was never shot down. After the war he was sent, along with his new group in 1950 to train and instruct the Chinese and North Koreans during the Korean War. He also showed up in Cuba between 1962 and 1963. He remained in service for most of his life until dying from a heart attack in 1991.