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he war in the skies in the Second World War was a brutal one. Many perished in the quest to acquire air superiority. In this ruthless scenario, many great men and women were forged. One such example is the Soviet fighter pilot Лидия Владимировна Литвяк (Anglicised: Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak). The first female fighter ace.

Humble Beginnings

Lydia Litvyak was born in Moscow into a Russian family. Her mother, Anna Vasilievna Litvyak, was a shop assistant, and her father Vladimir Leontievich Litvyak, worked as a railwayman, train driver, and clerk.

As part of the Great Purges, Lydia’s father, Vladimir, was taken away by the NKVD. Not much is known about where he ended. We can only suspect that he perished in the Siberian Gulags as he didn’t make it back home.

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak shaking hands with one of her students. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lydia would become interested in aviation at an early age. At 14, she enrolled in the local flying club, where she performed her first solo flight at 15. Later that year, she would go on to graduate from the Kherson Military Flying School. She became a flight instructor at Kalinin Airclub and would go on to train 45 pilots by the time the war broke out.

The Great Patriotic War

After the surprise attack instigated by the Third Reich, Lydia felt like she needed to serve her nation. First, she tried to join the military aviation unit but was turned down after exaggerating her pre-war flying time by 100 hours.

38k Yak-1, a similar model of Yak that Litvyak would go on to fly. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak with her awards. Source: Wikimedia Commons

She would go on to join the all-female 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment instead, where she would sharpen her fighting skills with the Yakovlev Yak-1.

It would not take long for her superiors to notice her skill, as a result, in September 1942, she would be transferred to the 437 Fighter Regiment, a men’s regiment fighting over Stalingrad.

It would only take Litvyak 3 days after her arrival in Stalingrad to bring pride to the USSR. On 13th September 1942, Livyak shot down 2 planes, making her the first female fighter pilot in history to shoot down an enemy.

The person she shot down on that day was 11-kill German ace Staff Sergeant Erwin Maier who parachuted out of his plane. After his capture by the Soviet troops, he asked to be taken to the ace who shot him down.

At first, Maier thought that the Soviet soldiers were making fun of him when he was taken in front of Litvyak; only after she described in immense detail how she took him down did he realize he was shot down by a woman.

Throughout her service as part of the Air Force, she would go on to take down many German aces, earning herself quite a name within the Soviet folklore.

As a result of her rebellious demeanor as well as her tendency to decorate her cockpit with flowers, she would go on to receive the nickname “White Lily of Stalingrad.”

Untimely Death

Not much is known about Litvyak’s death. The only certain account we have is from one of her wingmen, Ivan Borisenko, which gave the following statement when asked about what happened to Litvyak.

“Lily just didn’t see the Messerschmitt 109s flying cover for the German bombers. A pair of them dived on her and when she did see them she turned to meet them. Then they all disappeared behind a cloud.”

The last time Ivan saw Litvyak’s plane, it was only as a glimpse through the clouds, with smoke pouring out of the plane while she was being pursued by more than 8 Bf 109s, leading to the most likely conclusion that she was shot and killed on that day.

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak next to her 38k Yak-1. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak would leave a legacy behind her, inspiring many young Soviet girls during the Patriotic War and even inspiring some women to this day. Litvyak is the perfect example of hard work and determination, allowing you to make it where you want in life, no matter the obstacles you have to pass.

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