Born in Moscow, Lydia Litvyak, (1921 – 1943) 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, Litvyak tried to join a military aviation unit, but was turned down for lack of experience. After deliberately exaggerating her pre-war flight time by 100 hours, 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 Katya Budanova, six other pilots, and accompanying female ground crew, to the 437th IAP, a men’s regiment fighting over Stalingrad. She flew a Lavochkin La-5 fighter, and on September 13, 1942, she shot down her first two aircraft over Stalingrad. The first victory, won during Litvyak’s second combat mission, was a Junkers Ju 88 bomber that she helped her regimental commander shoot down. Minutes later, she scored the first solo kill by a female pilot, destroying a Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2 “Gustav” piloted by an 11-victory ace, three-time recipient of the Iron Cross, Staff Sergeant Erwin Maier of the 2nd Staffel of Jagdgeschwader 53.
In January 1943, she was moved to the 296th IAP, renamed later to become the 73rd Guards Fighter Regiment. On February 23, she was awarded the Order of the Red Star, made a junior lieutenant and selected to take part in the elite air tactic called okhotniki, or “free hunter”, where pairs of experienced pilots searched for targets on their own initiative. Twice, she was forced to land due to battle damage, and she was injured in aerial combat on March 22 and again on July 16, 1943. Litvyak scored against a difficult target on May 31, 1943: an artillery observation balloon manned by a German officer. On June 13, 1943, Litvyak was appointed flight commander of the 3rd Aviation Squadron within 73rd GIAP. On August 1, 1943, Lydia did not come back to her base. It was her fourth sortie of the day.
She was credited for 12 solo kills and 3 team kills and one of the only two female ace pilots in the world. She was called the “White Lily of Stalingrad” in Soviet press releases. She has also been called the “White Rose of Stalingrad” in Europe and North America.