Lydia Litvyak : biography
Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (Лидия Владимировна Литвяк, (Moscow, August 18, 1921 – Krasnyi Luch Goodpaster 2009, p. 27. August 1, 1943), also known as Lydia Litviak or Lilya Litviak, was a fighter pilot in the Soviet Air Force during World War II. With a maximum of twelve alleged solo victoriesJackson 2003, p. 57.Seidl 1998, p. 323. and a maximum of fourBergström, 2007, p. 83. alleged shared kills over a total of sixty six combat missions,Spick 1999, p. 120. over about two years of missions, she is one of the world's only two female fighter aces, along with Katya Budanova. She was shot down near Orel during the Battle of Kursk as she attacked a convoy of German planes.
Character and private life
Litvyak displayed a rebellious and romantic character. Returning from a successful mission, she would "buzz" the aerodrome and then indulge in unauthorised aerobatics, knowing that it enraged her commander.
Litvyak could also be superstitious, as Paspotnikova testified:
She never believed that she was invincible. She believed that some pilots had luck on their side and others didn't. She firmly believed that, if you survived the first missions, the more you flew and the more experience you got your chances of making it would increase. But you had to have luck on your side.Milanetti, page 79
Despite the predominantly male environment in which she found herself, she never renounced her femininity, and would carry on dyeing her hair blonde, sending her friend Inna Pasportnikova to the hospital to fetch hydrogen peroxide for her.Milanetti, page 79 She would fashion scarves from parachute material, dyeing the small pieces in different colours and stitching them together and would not hide her love of flowers, which she picked at every available occasion, favouring red roses. She would make bouquets and keep them in the cockpit, which were promptly discarded by the male pilots who shared her aircraft.Milanetti, page 80
Her comrade Solomatin is believed to have been her fiancé, and after his death she wrote to her mother:
You see, he was not my type, but his insistence and his love for me convinced me to love him... and now, it seems I will never meet someone like him ever again.Milanetti, page 80
The novel Vernis iz Poleta ("Return from Flight") by Natalya Kravtsova fictionalizes the death of Solomatin, stating that he was killed when he ran out of ammunition while battling with a German Bf 109 fighter plane over his own airfield. In this version, Litvyak and others at the airfield watched the fight and witnessed his death.
Recognition and controversy
In an attempt to prove that Litvyak had not been taken captive, Pasportnikova embarked on a 36 year search for the Yakovlev Yak-1 crash site assisted by the public and the media. For three years she was joined by relatives who together combed the most likely areas with a metal detector. In 1979, after uncovering more than 90 other crash sites, 30 aircraft and many lost pilots killed in action, "the searchers discovered that an unidentified woman pilot had been buried in the village of Dmitrievka... in Shakhterski district." It was then assumed that it was Litvyak and that she had been killed in action after sustaining a mortal head wound. Pasportnikova said that a specialist commission was formed to inspect the exhumed body and it concluded the remains were those of Litvyak.Noggle 1994, p. 200.
On May 6, 1990, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously awarded Litvyak Hero of the Soviet Union.Noggle, 1994, pp. 158, 194. Her final rank was senior lieutenant, as documented in all Moscow newspapers of that date.
Arguments have been published that dispute the official version of Litvyak's death. Although Yekaterina Valentina Vaschenko, the curator of the Litvyak museum in Krasnyi Luch has stated that the body was disinterred and examined by forensic specialists who determined that it was indeed Litvyak,Soviet-Awards.com Henry Sakaida, 2002. Retrieved on March 23, 2009. Kazimiera Janina "Jean" Cottam claims, on the basis of evidence provided by Ekaterina Polunina, chief mechanic and archivist of the 586th Fighter Regiment in which Litvyak initially served, that the body was never exhumed and that verification was limited to comparison of a number of reports.Redarmyonline.org. Kazimiera Janina "Jean" Cottam, 2006. ( Retrieved March 23, 2009. Cottam, an author and researcher focusing on Soviet women in the military, concludes that Litvyak made a belly-landing in her stricken aircraft, was captured and taken to a prisoner of war camp. In her book published in 2004, Polunina lists evidence that led her to conclude that Litvyak was pulled from the downed aircraft by German troops and held prisoner for some time.Polunina, 2004
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