Saturday, July 30, 2016

Women, A History: Lydia Litvyak - Hero of The Soviet Union

Lydia Litvyak 
 Hero of The Soviet Union 
(August 18, 1921 - August 1, 1943)

     There is no denial that women definitely played their part in WWII. Working in factories, signing up as nurses, and of course the WACs (Women's Air Corps) and the WAVEs (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service - a Women's Navel Reserve). In England they had their own branching for Women's Service to the country that was cleverly designed to look like real army work, however, women in the U.S. and Great Britain never actually saw combat. It was a very different story in Russia, though.

      Due to Communist thought, men and women were considered on equal levels with each other in many areas, especially when it came to service to one's country. No one defined service better than fighter ace, Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak or Lilya Litviak. During her time in the war, she flew 66 combat missions, had twelve solo victories and four shared wins. Lydia was quick and precise with her flying and showed talent at a young age when she joined a flying club at fourteen. She then joined the Kherson military school and after graduation, she became on instructor at the Kalinin Air Club and instructed forty-five pilots.

      When the war broke out in 1939, Lydia (who was 18) was turned down from the Air Force due to her lack of experience, but she soon accepted by the all-female 586th Fighter Regiment of Air Defense Force and was trained in the Yakolev Yak-1 aircraft. Afterwards Lydia and several other female pilots were moved to a men's regiment where all the women, but Lydia especially, earned the respect of their male counterparts with their intense and aggressive fighting. Eventually Lydia and her friends were moved to the 9th Guards Fighter Regiment are were under the commandment of Lev Shestakov, Hero of the Soviet Union (that's our equivalent of the Medal of Honor).

     Despite being a male heavy environment, Lydia was known to be very feminine and oftentimes bleached her hair till it was white blonde. She loved flowers, especially lilies and roses and would keep them in the cockpit of her plane. Lydia also loved brightly colored clothes and made her own scarves out of left over parachute material. Not much is known about her personal life, except that she may have been engaged to a fellow pilot, Solomatin, but that was never confirmed or denied. However, when he was killed on a mission, Lydia took his death very hard and wrote to her mother, "I may meet anyone like him again."

     As a pilot, Lydia was aggressive and had a rebellious nature. She was not above taking risks and oftentimes was called out by her superiors. Yet, her daredevil nature is the only way she enjoyed flying. By 1943 Lydia was a senior lieutenant and had earn the Order of the Red Banner, the Order of the Red Star, and two Orders of the Patriotic War and was only twenty-one. In August of 1943, Lydia was flying at Orel during the Battle of Kursk when she was tracked and gunned down by two German fighter pilots. She was never seen again. It took years for people to find and recognize her remains, but it was eventually confirmed that she was killed in battle.

      The Soviet press releases named Lydia the "Lily of Stalingrad" and in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia the Hero of the Soviet Union. Over the last several years, Litvyak has gotten a good deal of recognition and several books have been written about her life. In 1985, there was a play called the White Rose which is about Lydia's life as a pilot.

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