Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (Лидия Владимировна Литвяк) 18 August 1921 – 1 August 1943. She was known to everyone as Lilya. ‘The White Rose of Stalingrad’ was a female pilot who terrorized the Nazis.
Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.
In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.
She flew a number of missions in an all-women fighter regiment, but was later transferred to a mixed gender regiment over Stalingrad.
The Wiki says she was the first female pilot to shoot down an enemy fighter in combat, and she was the 2nd woman pilot to achieve the title “Ace.”
Back to “We Are the Mighty.” On August 1st, 1943:
“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.
The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.
Badass of the Week’s story on Litvyak is fairly colorful, and worth a look as well.
For the next year, the White Rose of Stalingrad ignited enemy fuselages up and down the Eastern Front. She was transferred to a Guards Regiment, the elite of the Soviet military, and flew as a Junior Lieutenant and Flight Commander in the recently-established all-female 586th Fighter Air Regiment. She flew bomber escorts, attack missions, and was so ridiculously awesome that she was given a James Bond license to kill at will – she was assigned “Free Hunter” status, meaning that she was free to go balls-out into enemy airspace without orders to do so. Over that year she flew 66 combat missions, sometimes four or five a day, including one attack when she busted through a gauntlet of AA guns and fighters to shoot down an observation balloon that was fucking with the Red Army and helping Nazi artillery range their shells on Russian positions outside Stalingrad. So fuck those guys. She notched twelve solo kills – the most of any woman ever – and had four or five more assisted kills. Basically, she kicked some Fascist ass.
Lilya Litvak was one of only 2 female fight-pilot, aces in history. The other was her wingman Katya Budanova.
This video is 10 minutes, longer than I like for something like this, but interesting enough to be worth your time. It isn’t perfect, but there you go. YouTube will choke on the privacy settings in your browser; use the link when that happens. (You do have privacy cranked up to 11, don’t you?) And no, the video isn’t perfect, but then what it?
A NOTE: Several people have asked me, “Why all this Soviet history?” Well, I love WWII history, and I’ve studied a lot of the American and British involvement, but the Russian side of things I hadn’t studied until just recently. I also love stories about strong women, and given that the Russians were the only country who deployed women in combat in WWII, it seemed natural to look into it.
It is sad really that the some of the same people who will defend studying Lee’s Army of Virginia and what they managed to do during The Civil War will give you grief, if you apply the same standards elsewhere. The Soviet Union was a horrible country, but some of the things its citizens and soldiers did were amazing.
It is also nice to throw some sand on the people who say women have no place in combat, by pointing out the pilots and snipers who did amazing things. History can teach you a lot, if you bother to look.