135 Soviet pilot Lydia Litvyak

Soviet pilot Lydia Litvyak

(Feb. 10, 2023) This week, 80 years ago, Soviet fighter pilot, Yekatarina Budanova, flying a Soviet Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter, shot down a German Focke-Wulf FW 190 fighter near Rostov-on-Don.

Yekaterina Budanova was one of a pair of female Soviet aces serving in the Voyenno-Vozdushnyye Sily (VVS).

They both flew in the 296 Fighter Aviation Regiment, commanded by Nikolai Baranov. On Feb. 23, 1943, both were awarded the Order of the Red Star.

This award was first established by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. on April 6, 1930, and was awarded for courage and valor displayed during the performance of military duties, or in circumstances involving a risk to life.

“Katya” Budanova was born near Smolensk, on Dec. 6, 1916. At the age of 13, she was sent to join her sister in Moscow, and began working in an aircraft factory.

This piqued her interest in aviation and by 1934, she had obtained her flying license and by 1937 was an instructor, becoming proficient in piloting the Yak-1.

Lydia Litvyak was born on Aug. 18, 1921 in Moscow. During the Great Purge, her father was arrested as an “enemy of the people” and disappeared.

She joined a flying club at age 14 and was graduated from the Kherson military flying school located in Ukraine. She became a flight instructor in the Kalinin Flying Club.

Kalinin was, and is now, known as Tver, and is located 110 miles northwest of Moscow.

After the launch of the Axis invasion of the U.S.S.R.—Operation Barbarrossa — both women volunteered to serve their country in the VVS.

Both were assigned to the all-female 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Air Defense Force, which was formed by Marina Raskova.

This was one of three all-female aviation units that Raskova had convinced Stalin to allow her to organize.

The other two regiments were a bomber (later renamed the 125th M.M. Raskova Borisov Guards Dive Bomber Regiment) and a night-fighter regiment (labeled by the Germans, “The Night Witches”).

The regiment received its first assignment on Feb. 23, 1942, when it was ordered to protect a railway bridge in Saratov, which is located on the Volga River, 242 miles north of Stalingrad. It was near Saratov that Katya flew her first mission.

The regiment continued flying missions to protect Saratov until Sept. 10, 1942, when Budanova and Litvyak were transferred to the 437 Fighter Regiment, a men’s regiment fighting over Stalingrad.

Their unit was stationed at Verkhnaia Akhtuba, on the east bank of the Volga River.

According to some accounts, the pair combined for their first victory on Sept. 14, 1942 — a Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter. At that time, their regiment had acquired the distinction of being named a Guards Fighter Regiment.

The pair was transferred to the 296th Fighter Aviation Regiment (later the 73rd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment), in January 1943, because their regiment was re-equipped with the US-built P-39 “Airacobra.” They preferred to continue flying the Yak-1.

The two pilots appeared on the cover of the weekly magazine, “Ogonek,” which means “spark,” on April 30, 1943.

Litvyak was promoted to senior lieutenant and flight commander of the 3rd Aviation Squadron of the 73rd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment on June 13, 1943.

She had a white flower painted on her plane, and became known in the Soviet press as the “White Lily of Stalingrad,” and in the Western press as the “White Rose of Stalingrad.”

Several novels were written about her: “The White Rose,” “Girl at the Edge of Sky,” “Call Sign, White Lily.” A museum dedicated to her life is located in Krasnyi Luch.

A little more than a month later, Budanova was shot down near Antrasit, a small city located 56 miles south of Lugansk, 81 miles northeast of Donetsk, in the Ukraine, 20 miles west of the Russian border.

Local farmers found her, but by the time they reached her, she was dead. They buried her on the outskirts of the village of Novokrasnovka, Ukraine, in the Donetsk region.

Three days after her death, she was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War.

On July 22, 1943, Litvyak was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, which is awarded for extraordinary heroism, dedication, and courage demonstrated on the battlefield.

Litvyak, flying from her base in Krasnyi Luch, in the Luhansk Province of Ukraine, was shot down on Aug. 1, 1943.

On Sept. 10, 1943, she, too, was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War. Her body was never recovered — until 1979.

It is claimed that the body was exhumed and identified as Livyak, but this is disputed.

Once the Soviet government was convinced that she had not been captured, it awarded her the Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union as well as the Order of Lenin.

The latter was awarded for exemplary service, while the former is awarded for heroic feats in service to the Soviet state. It was the highest award in the U.S.S.R. During the war, 11,635 people received the distinction.

Yekatarina Budanova was named a Hero of the Russian Federation on Oct. 1, 1993. This is a successor award to the Hero of the Soviet Union award. It is awarded for heroic service to the Russian state and nation.

Both women are considered by many to be aviation aces, which requires five victories.

The totals for both women are disputed with ranges of three for Budanova and five for Litvyak, to 11 for Budanova and 14 for Litvyak.

Some of the controversy comes from the fact that some of their victories were shared with other pilots. It is probably safe to assume that Litvyak did achieve the minimum number of five victories to qualify as an “Ace.”

Mike Spick, in his book, “The Complete Fighter Ace,” credits her with 13 victories and Budanova with 11.

Next week: Kasserine Pass

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.

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