Female fighters before take off.

Lilya Litvak - The "White Rose" of Stalingrad.

Written by Dariusz Tyminski .

Fighter aces Lilya Litvyak, 12 German kills (left) and Katya Budanova, 11 German kills (center). They both died in combat. In the text is photo of Lilya Litvak in front of her Yakovlev.

Lidya Vladimirovna Litvak was born in Moscow in August 18, 1921. Lilya was her nickname. She was regarded by all as a "strikingly beautiful woman", which helped earn her public appreciation and, added to her success as a fighter pilot, served the propaganda ministry well.

Litvak's aviation adventure began when she was teenager. Having 14 years old she joined Aeroclub, and one year later she took off for her first a lone flight. Soon Lidya arrived to 'Khersonskoya' Aviation School. After finishing it she returned to 'Kalininskiy' Aeroclub, as a flight instructor. When the war began, Lidya's dream was join to the battle. The building of female units by Marina Raskova, was excellent occasion!

She began military service in the all-woman 586th IAP, where she flew mostly defense missions from January to August 1942. In August she was posted, with Katiya Budianova, Masha Kuznietzova and Raya Bieliayeva to 'male' squadrons because of her merits. They arrived to 6th IAD (after some sources it was 9th Guards IAP of 287 IAD), battling over Stalingrad front. With this unit she got her first 2 air victories in September 13, 1943. It was second combat sortie. Soviet pilots encountered formation of Ju 87s with cover of Bf 109s. In first attack Lidya killed a single 'Stuka'. Then she noticed a friend's plane in trouble - Raya Bielayeva dueled against very agressive 'Messer'. Help arrived just in time and the Bf 109 was downed. After Soviet's relations German fighter pilot (experienced ace, 'baron', and member of Richthofen unit) fell POW and this same day evening he meet his adversary. He was very surprised seeing young, beutiful, female pilot...

In the end of January, 1943, she was transferred with Yekaterina Budianova to the 296th IAP, stationed Kotiel'nikovo airfield near Stalingrad. On February 17, 1943, she was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. Two days later she was promoted to Junior Lieutenant and soon after to Senior Lieutenant.

On 22 March 6 Soviet fighters encountered formation of Ju 88s. Lidya just downed one of them when she noticed attacking 6 Bf 109s. She rapidly turned against Germans to cover other surprised Soviet fighters. After heavy, 15-minuts combat Litvak's Yak returned base, but plane took several hits while Lidya was wounded. After hospital's stay she went to Moscow with order of month rehibilitaion. But after next week, in first days of May, she arrived front unit...

Lilya Litvak.

When she came back, the 296th IAP had been renamed the 73 Guards IAP for their exploits in battle.

On 5 May 1943 Lilya, not fully healthy after injuring, took part in aerial combat, scoring 1 kill. Two days later another Bf 109 fell in her gunsight, escaping with dark smoke.

She was wounded again in combat on July 16. This day Soviets escorted Il -2s when they spotted 30 Ju 87s in cover of 6 Bf 109s. In dramatic combat Lidya downed Junkers and Messerschmitt, shared with her leader. She landed in German-ocuppied territory, but got back to base on foot. She din't permit for doctor's examine - saying: "I'm feeling enough good to fight!"

Three days later she again took off for combat mission. On 21 July Lida flew as a wingman of unit's commander - Ivan Golishev. The pair of Soviet fighters was attacked by 7 enemy Bf 109s. Lidya fufilled her duty covering the leader, she managed to shot down one of 'Messers' attacking Golishev, but her Yak was heavily hit. She belly-landed near Novikovka village.

There is no doubt, that heavy combats, wounds, the death of Katya Budyanova (in combat) and death of close friend Alieksiey Solomatin (in plane crash) exhaust Lilya both physically and mentally...

She was repeatedly successful in flying missions, although was finally killed while escorting a unit of Shturmoviks returning from an attack in August 1, 1943 (it was her third sortie this day!). Because of her notoriety amongst the Germans, eight Messerschmitt Bf 109's concentrated solely on Lilya's Yak-1 with number '23' on board, and it took all eight of them to finally shoot down the 'White Rose of Stalingrad'. Her body and aircraft were not found during the war, but a marble monument, with 12 gold stars—one for each enemy plane that she had shot down—was erected in her memory in Krasy Luch, in the Donetsk region. Litvyak had completed 168 missions, and had 3 shared victories in addition to her personal twelve. She was 22 years old when she died.

Her remains were found at last in 1979, buried under her fallen YaK-1's wing, near the village of Dmitriyevka. Ten years later her body was recovered for an official burial; and in May 5, 1990 she was posthumously conferred the title of Hero of the Soviet Union by then Premier Mikhail Gorbachov.

Victory log-book of Lilya Litvak:

# PLANE downed DATE shot down PLANE she flew
1 Bf 109 sept. 13, 1942 La-5
2 Ju 88 Sept. 13, 1942 La-5
3 Ju 88 Sept. 27, 1942 La-5
4 Ju 88 February 11, 1943 Yak-1
shared FW 190A February 11, 1943 Yak-1
5 FW 190A March 1, 1943 Yak-1
6 Ju 88 March 1, 1943 Yak-1
7 Ju 88 March 15, 1943 Yak-1
8 Ju 88 March 15, 1943 Yak-1
9 ? May 5, 1943 Yak-1b
10 Observation Balloon May 31, 1943 Yak-1b
11 ? August 1, 1943 Yak-1b
12 ? August 1, 1943 Yak-1b

Some parts of above text are published after kind permission of by Rolando Silva, who owns Soviet Women Pilots in the Great Patriotic War . To see more details about other female pilots please do not miss this site!
I would like also to thank Michail Zhirokhov for additional informations.

The photo and colour profile of Lilya Litvak's weapon of choice, the Yak-1 (2nd production series with radio equipment) call-code 'yellow 44', belonging to the 73 IAP, in the standard summer colors of 1943. The aircraft is in dark green / black camouflage.

After some sources, on each side of her Yak-1's cockpit she painted a white lily, often confused for a rose—hence the nickname. She was so fond of flowers, that she often picked wildflowers and carried them aloft on her missions. According to her mechanic, Inna Pasportnikova, she had a postcard with yellow roses in her instrument panel. The white rose on the fuselage became famous among the Germans, who knew better than to try to dogfight the familiar Yak-1, and usually tried to make good their escape before Litvyak got too close. But there is no photography confirmation about 'white lilly' painting and I'm afraid that is only the legend...

Litvak's Yak-1 - photo.

Photo: ML 46, R.Bock, Jak-1,Jak-3, AJ-PRESS 1998.

Litvak's Yak-1 - profile.

Profile: Klub 1/72 SP, Gawrych-Żurek-Cieślak-Żurek, Samoloty II W.Ś., WKŁ 1988.


2000.09.24, © WW II Ace Stories.