Warfare History Network
Red Air Force female pilot Lilya Litvak became a fighter ace and a Hero of the Soviet Union fighting the Germans.
When German panzer and infantry columns rumbled across the frontier into Russia on June 22, 1941, the Soviet Air Force was woefully unready for war.
Marshal Josef Stalin had decided to revamp military aviation. Like the Red Army, whose officer corps he had brutally purged in the 1930s, Soviet air power was undergoing a transition and was in a sorry state. During the first disastrous week of Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invaders destroyed more than 4,000 out of 7,700 Russian airplanes.
The Russians flew aging bombers on suicidal raids against the Wehrmacht. Of the 800 in service, only 266 were still flying by December 1941. Faster and more maneuverable Messerschmitts shot down Soviet fighters almost at will and inexperienced Russian pilots resorted to such desperate tactics as trying to ram the German planes.
Stalin Calls on Marina Raskova to Recruit Female Pilots
After suffering catastrophic losses in men and planes during the German push into the Ukraine that summer, the Soviet high command was forced to call on one of the country’s most experienced women fliers, Marina Raskova, the “Russian Amelia Earhart,” to organize three regiments of female pilots. From the civil air fleet and flying clubs that had been formed across Russia in the 1930s, the beautiful, soft-spoken Major Raskova selected 200 recruits aged between 18 and 22.
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