Brief Biography of Liliia Litviak
Born: August 18, 1921, Moscow, USSR.
Died August 1, 1943 in Dmitreivka, Ukraine after crash-landing as a result of air combat.
Father: Vladimir Leontovich Litviak (a railway employee)
Mother: Anna Vasilevna Khmeleva Litviak (saleswoman)
Units and assignments:
586th Fighter Aviation Regiment: 16 April-10 Sep 1942
437th Fighter Aviation Regiment: 10 Sep-1 Oct 1942
9th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment 1 Oct 1942 - 8 Jan 1943
73rd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment 8 Jan-1 Aug 1943
Order of the Red Star
Order of the Red Banner
medal "For the Defense of Stalingrad"
Order of the Patriotic War, 1st degree
Hero of the Soviet Union (awarded posthumously in 1990)
Litviak grew up in Moscow, where she lived on Novoslobodskaia Street (Building 14, Apt. 88) with her parents and her younger brother Iurii. When she was 14 she already knew she wanted to be a pilot -- her birthday was on Soviet Air Fleet Day--and she sneaked into airclub classes even though the minimum age was 16. She learned to fly gliders, and when she was 18 she attended Kherson Aviation School. She worked as an instructor pilot at the Kirov airclub in Moscow from 1940 to 1941.
When war broke out on 22 Jun 1941, Litviak was among the thousands of young women who volunteered for military service. She was told she was needed as an instructor and evacuated with her airclub. But when Marina Raskova announced the formation of women's aviation regiments in October 1941, Litviak was selected for that group. Aviation Group No. 122 set up training in Engels. Litviak's skill earned her a slot the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, which became operational in April 1942 and was assigned to the air defense forces (APVO) at Saratov. The missions of the 586th included performing combat air patrols to defend against enemy reconnaissance aircraft and bombers, and providing fighter escort to protect transport aircraft against enemy fighters. While stationed at Saratov, Litviak completed 55 combat flights.
On September 10, 1942 Litviak was transferred with seven other pilots from the 586th to Stalingrad. Litviak and three others were assigned to the 437th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the 8th Air Army. Three days later, Litviak scored her first two kills, shooting down a Ju-88 bomber and an Me-109 fighter. Three weeks later the women were transferred again, to the 9th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment in Zhitkur. Some of the most famous Soviet fighter aces of the war were members of this renowned regiment, and Litviak received excellent training from such renowned pilots as Vladimir Lavrinenkov.
Litviak and her friend Katiia Budanova fought to remain in the VVS (Soviet Air Forces) rather than be returned to the 586th. In January 1943 they were assigned to the 296th Fighter Aviation Regiment (8th Air Army), later designated the 73rd Guards. Regimental commander Nikolai Ivanovich Baranov and squadron commander Aleksei Solomatin were friends and mentors to the women pilots.
Litviak steadily added more kills to her scorecard (see complete listing of Litviak's kills). She was wounded in the leg during a dogfight on 22 March 1943 and sent off to hospital and then home to Moscow to recover. Within six weeks, she hopped a flight back to the 73rd against her doctor's orders. She shot down three aircraft in May and four in July 1943. She also succeeded in a daring attack on a German artillery observation balloon in May.
The 73rd was involved in some of the heaviest air battles of the Eastern Front and suffered many casualties. Baranov and Solomatin were both killed in May; Budanova died in July. Litviak crash-landed in June 1943 and was wounded on 16 July, but continued flying. On 20 July, she was forced to bail out when her aircraft was set afire during a dogfight.
On 1 August 1943 Litviak flew four missions. On the last, her aircraft sustained heavy damage and she disappeared into the clouds, trying to get away from pursuing enemy fighters. Members of her regiment searched for her aircraft or body without success. This gave rise to rumors that Litviak might have survived (see The Death of Liliia Litviak).
For years, people searched for the crash site and remains of Litviak. In 1979, it was discovered that an unidentified female pilot had been buried during the war at a Yak-1 crash site in the village of Dmitrievka, and dug up and reinterred in 1969 in a common grave. After extensive reviews of unit and personnel records, the Soviet Air Force concluded that the body was that of Liliia Litviak. In 1988 her status was officially changed from "missing in action" to "killed in action," and in 1990 she was posthumously named a Hero of the Soviet Union by Soviet Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev.
Litviak completed 268 combat flights. Her personal kills included 1 Ju-87 and 3 Ju-88 bombers, 7 Me-109 fighters, and 1 artillery observation balloon. Her shared kills included 1 FW-190 and 2 Me-109 fighters. All her kills were accomplished in less than one year of combat flying, between September 13, 1942 and August 1, 1943.
Liliia Litviak was the first woman in history to shoot down an enemy aircraft and has more documented kills than any other female fighter pilot. She was remembered by her colleagues as "a remarkable girl, smart, with the true character of a fighter pilot and a daredevil."