Galchenko's LaGG-3
evolution of its painting scheme
By Audrius Nairanauskas and Massimo Tessitori
Updated on February 20, 2005
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The most famous pilot of the 145 IAP, then based at Murmansk on the Northern front, was Captain Leonid Galchenko, commander of the second squadron.
At the age of 29, Galchenko flew in 1939-40 war against Finland, without being involved in aerial combats.
This unit was equipped with I-16s at the age of the Operation Barbarossa; he obtained a single victory on this type.
The unit received a dozen of LaGG-3s in early August 1941. His first flight ended with a landing gear collapse while landing.
Some days  later, Galchenko shot down a Ju-88 with the midnight sun in the sky. Then he started to be favourably impressed by his new aircraft.
He totalized 8 aerial victories within the end of September 1941.
 
distinctive characteristics of the version

The LaGG-3 of Leonid Galchenko is probably an example of series 2 or 3, built in Gorki (Zavod 21) immediately before the war outbreak.
It features intermediate characteristics between those of the better-known 1st series and 4th series:

summer 1941
The Lagg-3 to 145 IAP were supplied in 22 July 1941.
No any photo relative to this period is available, but this profile can be extrapolated from later images of the aircraft, removing the white blotches, the white cat and the spinner star, and adding a standard fuselage star.
Other LaGG-3s without fuselage star have been observed too, but they all have the number in a different position.
The camouflage is different from standard factory schemes seen on LaGG-3s; perhaps it was painted on the field on a green base.
In fact, the LaGG-3 white 54 of his fellow Aleksandr Zaitsev, another ace of 145 IAP, is represented with uniform green uppersurfaces.
autumn 1941

Galchenko was promoted major in late September 1941,
At that time, Galchenko was proposed as Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest Soviet decoration, but he said that he would accept it only if his wingman Viktor Mironov was awarded in the same way, because he had saved him many times from sure death.
They both were made HSU on 6 June 1942.
The famous white cat was painted in Semptember 1941.
Galchenko decided to paint a cat in answer to the "Tigers head" he saw on Me-109 that took part in the Karelian front.
He considered this as a sort of talisman, and it looks to have functioned well, because he was never shot down.

The red stars on the tail and on fuselage were overpainted with camo colors; the addition of a red star on the spinner is probably contemporary to this, because the whole fuselage was left without any national marking.
This profile was extrapolated from later photos, removing white winter camo.
winter 1941/42

In period October-December/41 the 145 IAP was moved from the front and reorganized into 609 IAP at Kandalaksha; this unit was equipped with I-16, LaGG-3 and MiG-3s. Major Galchenko was made commander of the new unit.
The period of December-February/42 was of very active combats.
The aircraft appears in some movies with its pilot. 
It shows:
  • no sliding hood;
  • white cat, with a white mice on the left side only;
  • white bands on fuselage, tails and wings;
  • underwing stars of unusually small size and unusually central position;
  • white strip painted on the left rear window only;
  • with 76 painted on the fuselage;
  • with fixed tail wheel.
The white cat on the right side had different nose shape, and no mice.
An unpainted metal plate appears immediately behind the right exhaust stack.
Here we see two winter photos of Galchenko and his aircrafts. 
From the photo above, we see that the sliding canopy can be mounted on during winter.
On some movies, the same aircraft is visible without sliding hood.

 
spring/summer 1942

During the spring, the white winter paint was repainted with black paint.
Subsequently, the white number 76 was overpainted with dark green paint, probably because the aircraft was well recognizable even without the number because of the cat on the tail.
Perhaps the tail was damaged during a landing , that could be why we have modified tail wheel on "summer" Lagg. 
As well perhaps the undersurface was damaged and that is why we see the wings undersurface without stars , because just repainted. 
Lagg with black cat was shot down once, but that time the pilot was not Galchenko but his wingman- Mironov. 

 
This upper view of Galchenko's aircraft is well documented on photos (except for small details), and is the base for the reconstruction of earlier looks of the aircraft.
The sharp black bands correspond to winter white blotches repainted, while worn black at the wingroot was probably painted in an earlier date to cover the treaded on surface.
This image shows the aircraft as it appeared in spring/summer 1942. 
We clearly see that at least three shades of camo color are distinguishable. 
The object laying on the ground is a compressed air bottle.
The pilot is approaching his aircraft and the ground technician is marching towards him.
Here we see a detail of the cat on the left side. 
The mice is only on the left side, and the cat shape is a bit different on the other side.
The nearly deleted red star is still visible under repaintings.
On the rudder, we see light (red? Lighter green?) panels on black repaintings.
Here is a detail of the star on the spinner. We see a very thin white-black-red contour. The angular distance between star braces looks irregular, but this could be an illusion due to the perspective and to the lock recess in upper position.
Here is the aircraft flying during summer/spring 1942. 
The right main landing gear is blocked in downed position.
Note that the cat has different shape than on the left side, besides the mice is missing. 
The red star on the spinner is not clearly visible because of spinning.
This image shows clearly that there were not red stars painted on the wings undersurfaces.
The undercarriage bay looks as light painted as the undersurfaces.
Here is Galchenko near his aircraft's tail in 1942. 
The cat was already painted black with white outline.

Photo from Artem V. Drabkin
 http://www.iremember.ru/index_e.htm

Another image of Galchenko in 1942.
Here we see the 12,7 mm gun protruding from his spinner and from the left side of the engine cowling and the side intake.

Photo from Artem V. Drabkin
http://www.iremember.ru/index_e.htm


 
late 1942

This image is thought to show Galchenko's aircraft in a later date.
On the whole, it's not sure that this is the same aircrafts of the photos above, maybe repaired with pieces from another one, or a new aircraft at all, maybe modified to match the previous one as colors and armament.

Note that some details are different:
  • later type engine cowling lower panel, typical of series 4 or later;
  • the spinner rear disk is painted dark green or black;
  • there are victory stars on the fuselage and a small hammer and sickle on the left main undercarriage door.
The camouflage looks very similar to the previous aircraft, but not identical. 
As similarities with the first aircraft, we note:
  • there are ShKAS bulges and barrels on the nose;
  • the weapon on the prop axis looks still an UB;
  • the red star in on a white spinner;
  • the antenna mast is short and bent rearward;
  • the tail wheel is retractable.

 
On the whole, this seems to be the look of this aircraft.
winter 1942/43

 

from  Soviet aces on LaGG/Lavockins, Osprey; thanks to Alexander Ruchkovsky
This image seem to show the same aircraft of the one above on a later date, probably winter 1942/43. 
The original tubular exhaust stacks appear replaced with those of a later version, as series 29-35 (typical of mid/late1942).
The lower rudder balance is absent.
On the whole, this aircraft is hybridized between some different ones.
The white cat and white blotches are similar to those seen on photos of winter 1941/42, except for the presence of starlets that were let visible.
It is unclear if there is a red star on the fuselage, partially hidden by the white blotch, and a number (probably not, as on previous one).

 
Again, an hypothetical profile of the aircraft in its winter configuration.
The hammer and sickle on the wheel door is no longer visible.

Galchenko became deputy commander of 324 IAD (Fighter Aviation Division), and he received a La-5F, on whose tail he painted the cat emblem again.
He continued to fly and combat over the Arctic and on Karelia till the end of the war, totalizing 24 individual victories, plus 12 shared, in 310 sorties.
 
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