Lydia Litvak: The White Rose of Stalingrad

Ad: This forum contains affiliate links to products on Amazon and eBay. More information in Terms and rules


The Pop-Tart Whisperer
Feb 19, 2007
Southern New Jersey
from Air Aces Of WWII by Robert Jackson

With the exception of Japan, all the belligerent nations in World War II used women pilots, but only one - the Soviet Union - used them in combat. Soviet women pilots were organized into three combat regiments in Oct 1941 by Marina Roskova, an aviatrix famous fot her pre-war record long-distance flights. Originally, they composed the 122nd Composite Air Division, made up of the 586th Fighter Air Regiment, the 587th Bomber Air Regiment and the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The 586th FAG was equipped with the Yak-7B: one of its pilots, Lt. Olga Yamshchikova, became the first woman fighter pilot to destroy an enemy aircraft at night when she shot down a Ju 88 over Stalingrad on 24 Sept. 1942.; she went on to become the regiment's most successful pilot, with 6 victories. During the remainder of the war the 586th stayed a first-line regiment, following the Soviet armies in their subsequent advance across Europe.

When hostilities ended in 1945 the regiment was in Austria; by that time, its female pilots had flown 4,419 operational missions, engaged the enemy 125 times and shot down a total of 38 German aircraft. The regiment was commanded by Major Tamara Kazarinova.

Other Russian women flew with men's units, including Lt. Ekaterina Budanova, credited with 11 victories and Lt. Lydia Litvak, who gained 12 official victories in a year of combat flying with the 73rd Fighter Air Regiment to become Russia's top-scoring woman pilot. Flying a Yak-1, she flew 130 sorties over the battlegrounds of Rostov and Stalingrad, engaging in 66 air combats. Created a Heroine Of the Soviet Union, she was killed in action at the age of 22 on 1 Aug 1943. Reports of her last flight vary, but it seems that she was one of 8 Yak pilots engaged in an attack on a formation of Ju 87 Stukas, escorted by 6 Fw 190s. As the Russians made their attack, they were ambushed by 10 Bf 109s and 2 of the Yaks were shot down. One was flown by Guards Colonel Golyshev, while the other, carrying a white lilly painted on its nose, was Lydia Litvak's aircraft. According to some accounts, during earlier combat operations, Litvak had a white rose painted on both sides of her aircraft's fuselage, earning her the nickname of the "White Rose of Stalingrad." She crashed near Dmitrievka, Dontez Basin.

from Lydia Litvyak - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Born in Moscow, she was keen on aviation from her youth. At 14, she entered an aeroclub, and at 15, flew an aircraft for the first time. In the late 1930s, she received her flight instructor licence.

After the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, she tried to voluntarily join a military aviation unit, but was turned down for lack of experience. After deliberately exaggerating her pre-war flight time by 100 hours of flight, she joined the all-female 586th Fighter Regiment (586 IAP), which was formed by Marina Raskova. She trained there on the Yakovlev Yak-1 aircraft.

She flew her first combat flights in the summer of 1942 over Saratov. In September, she was assigned, along with other women (including Katya Budanova), to the 437th IAP, fighting over Stalingrad. She flew a Lavochkin La-5 fighter, and on September 13, 1942, she shot down her first aircraft — a Junkers Ju 88 bomber, and a fighter plane. In the following months she shot down several further aircraft.

In late 1942, she was moved to the 9th Guards Fighter Regiment (9 GIAP), and in January 1943, to the 296th IAP, renamed later into the 73rd Guards Fighter Regiment. On February 23, she was awarded with a Red Star order. Two times she was forced to land due to battle damage, and she was also twice injured (on March 22 and July 16, 1943). In early 1943, she was made a 2nd lieutenant. At the beginning of 1943, she married fighter ace Aleksey Solomatin, flying in 73rd GIAP, who was killed when crash-landing his plane damaged in action on May 21, 1943. Lydia became a famous press hero, but she also was physically and mentally worn out.

On August 1, 1943, Lydia's Yak-1b fighter was shot down during combat, and she went missing. She was 21 years old. The authorities suspected that she might have been captured, so they decided not to award her the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Only in 1979 was it determined that her aircraft had come down near Dmitrovka, a village in Shakhterski district and that she had been killed in action. After further verification, on May 6, 1990, USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev posthumously awarded her Hero of the Soviet Union and promoted her to full lieutenant. It's unclear if reported circumstances of her death are accurate.

There are conflicting claims about Litvyak's victory score in different publications, with no official records. Most often 11 individual kills and 3 team kills are quoted, but also 8 individual and 4 team, or other numbers. She also shot down an observation balloon on May 31, 1943. She was awarded with the Order of the Red Banner, Order of the Red Star, and Order of the Patriotic War (twice).

She was also known as the White Rose of Stalingrad (in other sources as White Lily of Stalingrad, white lily may also be translated from Russian as Madonna lily). A play about her, White Rose, was performed once in the Belgrade Studio Theatre in Coventry.[
The Yak-1 used by Litvak


Planning a mission.


Hre you got some more info, not very reliable but interesting.

The stories of Lily Litvyak and Katya Budanova have interested me for years, and I've done a fair amount of research about it.
There are a couple 'facts' given about them, particularly in online sources that are misleading or inaccurate.

First, it's highly unlikely that Lily ever flew La-5's. The four girls assigned to the 437th arrived flying their own Yak 1's. Their mechanics complained about the mixup because there were no tools or spare parts.
Their flight leader, Raisa Belayeva actually had to fly a mock dogfight with her Yak 1 against one of the 437th pilots in his La5 to prove that they were good enough to fly with them. A couple Messershmitts bounced them while they were busy, (while Raisa was on the tail of the La-5 by the way!). She landed successfully but the La-5 pilot had to belly land.
Eventually they were transferred to a unit that flew the same plane as them, the 9th GvIAP (Yak 1 and Yak7), then to the 296th which had just been outfitted with Yak 1s.

It's also unlikely that Lily was married, or was even engaged to Alexei Solomatin. In letters to her mother she states that while she liked him, he was 'not to her taste'.

The white roses painted on the fuselage is also unlikely. It was extremely rare for Soviet aircraft to have any artwork on their planes, particularly in the early and mid stages of the war. There's no photographic evidence to support it, nor even anecdotal evidence. There are stories of Lily taking wildflowers in the plane with her, and of having a postcard with a picture of roses on it pinned inside the cockpit.

I'm always amazed at the victories attributed to Olga Yamchikova. Some list her as having 21 kills, placing her as the No1 female ace, while in actual fact she had 3 kills plus 1 shared. Also, the first night kill credit goes to Valeria Khomyakova.

Interestingly, the possibility exists that it was Eric Hartmann who shot Lily down. He has four Yak kills on Aug 1/43, in the same area where she was killed. Nothing can be proven, but it's interesting to speculate.

Of the eight women pilots who were transferred to front-line 'male' regiments, four returned to the 586th and 3 survived the war.

Those eight girls accounted for 32 enemy planes. Not too shabby.
Thanks Claidemore. I just posted what I found from the book and online cause I thought it was interesting that the women were so successful.

As far as personal markings, weren't some pilots allowed or was that just slogans that were permitted?
Agreed Njaco, it is an interesting story, and an unusual one.

I ain't no expert, but from what I've read, slogans were usually painted on presentation aircraft. A factory, or a collective farm would scrape their rubles together and pay for an aircraft, which would then be presented to a deserving pilot or regiment. There are a few photos of 'presentation planes' with 'kill' scores on them, usually some of the top scoring guys but it was not a common practice like with the US or Britain.

You do see personal markings occasionally, but it's pretty rare, and almost always later in the war. Once victory seemed certain, I guess some of the rules were relaxed.

During interviews with VVS pilots who flew during WWII, when asked about personal emblems, their usual response is something to the effect that it would have been a waste of time to paint a plane with special figures or even kill markings, since they might be issued new ones after x amount of hours on the airframe. (this varied, each plane was tested before being replaced, seems like approx 100 hours on engines, 200 on airframe if memory serves). Such practical people the Russians!

Users who are viewing this thread