Monday, March 2, 2015
MiG-3s were delivered to front-line fighter regiments beginning in the spring of 1941 and proved to be a handful for pilots accustomed to the lower-performance and docile Polikarpov I-152 and I-153 biplanes and the Polikarpov I-16 monoplane. Even after the extensive modifications made to the MiG-3 in comparison to the MiG-1 it was still tricky and demanding to fly. Many fighter regiments were not diligent in training their pilots to handle the MiG as it flew very differently than the older fighters and the rapid pace of deliveries aggravated things so that many units had more MiGs than they had trained pilots to fly them by the time of Operation Barbarossa. On 1 June 1941, 1,029 MIG-3s were on strength, but there were only 494 trained pilots. In contrast to the untrained pilots of the 31st Fighter Regiment those of the 4th Fighter Regiment were able to claim three German high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft shot down before war broke out in June 1941. However high-altitude combat of this sort was to prove to be uncommon on the Eastern Front where most air-to-air engagements were at altitudes well below 5,000 metres (16,000 ft). At these sorts of altitudes the MiG-3 was outclassed by the Bf 109 in all respects, but also by other modern Soviet fighters like the Yakovlev Yak-1. Furthermore the shortage of ground-attack aircraft in 1941 forced it into that role as well, for which it was totally unsuited. Pilot Alexander E. Shvarev recalled: "The Mig was perfect at altitudes of 4,000 m and above. But at lower altitudes it was, as they say, 'a cow'. That was the first weakness. The second was its armament: weapons failure dogged this aircraft. The third weakness was its gunsights, which were inaccurate: that's why we closed in as much as we could and fired point blank."
On 22 June 1941, most MiG-3s and MiG-1s were in the border military districts of the Soviet Union. The Leningrad Military District had 164, 135 were in the Baltic Military District, 233 in the Western Special Military District, 190 in the Kiev Military District and 195 in the Odessa Military District for a total of 917 on hand, of which only 81 were non-operational. An additional 64 MiGs were assigned to Naval Aviation, 38 in the Air Force of the Baltic Fleet and 26 in the Air Force of the Black Sea Fleet.
The 4th and 55th Fighter Regiments had most of the MiG-3s assigned to the Odessa Military District and their experiences on the first day of the war may be taken as typical. The 4th, an experienced unit, shot down a Romanian Bristol Blenheim reconnaissance bomber, confirmed by post-war research, and lost one aircraft which crashed into an obstacle on take-off. The 55th was much less experienced with the MiG-3 and claimed three aircraft shot down, although recent research confirms only one German Henschel Hs 126 was 40% damaged, and suffered three pilots killed and nine aircraft lost. The most unusual case was the pair of MiG-3s dispatched from the 55th on a reconnaissance mission to Ploieşti that failed to properly calculate their fuel consumption and both were forced to land when they ran out of fuel.
Most of the MiG-3s assigned to the interior military districts were transferred to the PVO where their lack of performance at low altitudes was not so important. On 10 July 299 were assigned to the PVO, the bulk of them belonging to the 6th PVO Corps at Moscow, while only 293 remained with the VVS, and 60 with the Naval Air Forces, a total of only 652 despite deliveries of several hundred aircraft. By 1 October, on the eve of the German offensive towards Moscow codenamed Operation Typhoon, only 257 were assigned to VVS units, 209 to the PVO, and 46 to the Navy, a total of only 512, a decrease of 140 fighters since 10 July, despite deliveries of over a thousand aircraft in the intervening period. By 5 December, the start of the Soviet counter-offensive that drove the Germans back from the gates of Moscow, the Navy had 33 MiGs on hand, the VVS 210, and the PVO 309. This was a total of 552, an increase of only 40 aircraft from 1 October.
Over the winter of 1941–42 the Soviets transferred all of the remaining MiG-3s to the Navy and PVO so that on 1 May 1942 none were left on strength with the VVS. By 1 May 1942, Naval Aviation had 37 MiGs on strength, while the PVO had 323 on hand on 10 May. By 1 June 1944, the Navy had transferred all its aircraft to the PVO, which reported only 17 on its own strength, and all of those were gone by 1 January 1945. Undoubtedly more remained in training units and the like, but none were assigned to combat units by then.
Even with the MiG-3's limitations, Aleksandr Pokryshkin, the third-leading Soviet, and Allied, ace of the war, with 53 official air victories (plus six shared), recorded a number of those victories while flying a MiG-3 at the beginning of the war. He later recalled:
“Its designers rarely succeeded in matching both the fighter's flight characteristics with its firepower… the operational advantage of the MiG-3 seemed to be obscured by its certain defects. However, these advantages could undoubtedly be exploited by a pilot able to discover them”.