Red Sky, Black Death
A Soviet Woman Pilot's Memoir of the Eastern Front
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Slavica Publishers
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
Woman has always played a role in war. She has defended her home and children from invading forces, nursed wounded soldiers at the front, and disguised as a male soldier, she has fought bravely in the trenches. She has spied for her country, participated in armed resistance as a partisan, a sniper, an infantryman, a combat pilot. ...
Bibliography and Recommended Reading
1. A Deception of Sunlight and Mist
I remember our send-off at Kazan Station as a festival of vivid sunlight, though it was actually a dreary, overcast day. My friends' smiles, laughter, and jokes so dazzled me that my head spun with giddy elation. I felt so full of joy that I could hardly see, and I leaned against the railing of the train car, my vision blurring through half-closed eyes. ...
2. Land of Our Fathers
Continuing a centuries-old tradition, Mother always brewed beer for festival days in our village. We grew hops in the vegetable garden. In the autumn, we harvested it and stored it for beer-making. We hung barley over the stove in large sacks until it sprouted and became malt. ...
I clearly recall my first steps in the grand city of Moscow. My brother Vasya1 pulled me along with one hand and carried my belongings with the other as we hurried through the bustling streets. I stopped short, frozen to the ground, stunned by all the terrible noise and bustle—the horse-drawn cart-wheels clattering along cobblestone streets, ...
As soon as Mama discovered that her grandson had not been christened, she resolved to rectify this unforgivable sin. Behind Vasya and Katya's backs, she christened him in the village church, renaming him "Yegor." ...
5. Dizzy with Success
One day, a young man came to our class and introduced himself as the secretary of the Kamennaya Regional Komsomol Committee. He told us about the program and charter of the Communist Youth Union and then asked, "Who wants to be a Komsomol? Raise your hands." A roomful of arms went up. ...
The newspapers issued a call to action, summoning us all to take part in the Five-Year Plan.1 Our school's graduates scattered all over, aspiring to do their part to industrialize the nation. We wanted to work hard and study. ...
7. Red Gates
I still become cross when anyone suggests that there's any metro station in all of Moscow more spectacular than my "Red Gates."1 After all, the station won a Grand Prix for architectural design at the 1938 World's Fair in Paris. Everything is on a massive, monumental scale: broad cornices supported by powerful marble columns; ...
8. From the Mine to the Sky
Our in-house newsletter, the Metrostroy Shock Worker, reported that the Metrostroy Aeroclub had acquired four U-2 planes, three gliders, and a plot of land for an aerodrome not far from the Maliye Vyazmy station. The article invited prospective airplane and glider pilots and parachutists to help clear land for the airfield and build hangars. ...
9. A Partisan Character
"Enough of this digging in the dirt!" my brother announced one day. "It's time for you to think about the future. Use your head! You need to enroll in an institute. I've already arranged for you to work in the editorial offices of the newspaper Labor. The job's nothing to rave about, but you'll always be around intelligent and educated people. ...
10. First Flight
This is what I remember: the airfield teeming with bluebells, our airplanes lined up in a row, and us opposite them, wearing our new blue flying overalls, Osoaviakhim1 helmets, and goggles. The flight chief made his report to the aeroclub superintendent while we stood motionless. ...
11. I Am a Pilot
The first Sunday in June dawned as bright and warm as a midsummer day. At sunrise, intricate palaces of towering white clouds loomed all along the horizon. But by the time we were ready to fly, they had melted away, leaving us a perfect day for flying. Only a mischievous breeze disturbed the stillness, but even it blew just the right amount. ...
12. The Trousseau
By the end of July, we had all soloed. The command invited us to spend our vacation from the mine at the aerodrome camp. Our Metrostroy Komsomol "god" Zhenya—the Komsomol committee secretary—encouraged us in this. ...
13. Into the Abyss
In non-flying weather, we studied how a parachute worked, how to pack it, and the principles of bailing out. Our instructor Vladimir Antonenko made it all sound so simple, but the night before my first jump, I could barely sleep. ...
14. False Accusation
I stood before the secretary of the city Komsomol committee, awaiting my fate. Expelled from the Ulyanovsk Flying School, banished from the sky, I felt my dreams of flying slipping away from me, as the secretary sat silently in front of me. He scratched his head, ran his fingers through his hair, and suddenly exclaimed, ''I've figured it out, Yegorova! ...
The train pulled away. As it rattled past the traffic signals on the outskirts of Smolensk, I was already approaching the Komsomol Regional Committee building. The winter dawn had just begun to turn the white walls of the city's ancient houses a pale blue. The Komsomol office hadn't opened yet. ...
I had lost all hope of re-enrolling in the military flight school. Besides me, five other women trained in our detachment, all native to Smolensk. I was a stranger there, the last in line, I reasoned dismally, and in despair I nearly gave up on the aeroclub altogether. I began studying for the entrance examinations to an aviation institute. ...
17. Daughter, You'll Fall
I was sent to the town of Kalinin1 to become the aeroclub's navigator. When I arrived, I discovered that the aeroclub already had a navigator but badly needed a flight instructor. I jumped at the chance—I had long been yearning to fly. I passed the flight check and began training cadets. ...
18. Girls, It's War!
The June night seemed in no hurry to arrive, though the hour was quite late. My flights had dragged on far into the evening, and tired though I was, I couldn't go home yet. I still had to debrief my cadets and finish their logbook entries. I had scarcely sat down at my desk, when my friend Mashenka popped her head in the door. ...
19. Closer to the Front
It was impossible to breathe in the packed train carriage. With no possibility of any solitude whatsoever, I made conversation with my neighbor, an elderly officer. We talked about recent events at the front. Was there any other topic in those days? I mostly did the asking, and he the answering, knowing far more than I about the situation. ...
20. An Internal Compass
I received my aircraft, the U-2, on my third day at the front. It was certainly no speedy fighter and no dive bomber, just a simple little wood-and-fabric airplane that gave me years of devoted service. It won our front-line troops' admiration and our enemies' hatred. Near the end of the war, it was reborn as the Po-2 or Polikarpov-2, named for its designer. ...
The next day, I flew to a different place instead—to Kalarovka, near Melitopol. I was to deliver a liaison officer carrying operations orders to the staff headquarters of the 9th Army. It was a gorgeous day with unlimited visibility. Hoping to avoid running into any more Fascist "hawks," I flew low enough to shave leaves from the treetops. ...
22. The Thief
Occasionally we flew missions to the staff of the Southwestern Front, which at that time was encamped in Kharkov.1 Utter chaos prevailed at the aerodrome there. Planes were constantly taking off and landing, often simultaneously. There were always "horseless" pilots wandering around in the parking area. Many of them had lost their airplanes in combat. ...
23. We'll Meet Again after Victory!
A week later, our troops counterattacked, recapturing the city and pressing the enemy westward to the Mius River at Taganrog. We moved to the settlement of Filippenko, and the headquarters of the Southern Front moved to Kamensk, in the Northern Donets Basin. ...
The winter campaign of 1942 shattered the myth of the invincible German warrior. We had yet to turn the tide, but our first small successes instilled in our troops a renewed faith in victory, a fighting spirit. Hope characterized that winter for the troops of the Southern Front. ...
25. Devil's Fellow
The squadron's chief of staff, Senior Lieutenant Listarevich, opened the door of the pickup and said regretfully, "I'm sorry we didn't give you time to rest, Annushka. You've been urgently summoned to staff headquarters to report on the location of the cavalry corps." ...
26. A Pilot for the General
For the first time since the beginning of the Barvenkovo operation, I finally had a good, long sleep. Pleasant dreams swept away my fatigue. The harrowing experiences of those two difficult flights folded themselves away, into the vault of memory. New trials awaited me. ...
27. The Party
In April of 1942, when we were based at Voyevodovka, near Lysychansk, Ukraine, I was nominated for party membership by our Battalion Commissar, Alexey Vasilyevich Ryabov, and our party organizer, Ivan Yosefovich Irkutsky. ...
28. Order of the Red Banner
Katyushas had just appeared at our sector of the front. The commanders had described the exact location of the heavy trucks loaded with the sheathed rockets I was to find. I was also to deliver a classified packet to a General Pushkin. ...
29. A Hooligan on the Road
In May of 1942, the armies of the Southwestern Front launched a major offensive toward Kharkov. Our Southern Front joined the operation to liberate the city and destroy its occupiers.1 Before flights, our liaison squadron was briefed about the latest combat operations at the front. ...
30. A Perfect Hell
Rage and bitterness consumed me. The shame of it—to be shot down, with no way to take revenge against my aggressors! I ached for an airplane that could fight back. I had heard that new types of warplanes were arriving at the front: Petlyakovs, Yaks, Lavochkins. We pilots dreamed of these planes. ...
31. Order 227: "Not a Step Backwards!"
We flew to the agreed-upon base near Cherkassk but found nothing there—no staff, no mess hall, no fuel. The enemy had cut off their direct path to Grozny, so our ground echelon retreated along a different route, winding through Maikop, Tuapse, Kutaisi, Tbilisi, Ordzhonikidze.1 We finally reunited with them on October 30, in Grozny. ...
32. To the Penalty Battalion
That terrible autumn of 1942, all of us in the northern Caucasus, from foot soldier to field marshal, were utterly spent. We'd had no letters from home for ages. The field mail had seemingly lost its way, wandering around the front somewhere. I thought constantly of Mama and Viktor. Where were they? Were they alive and well? ...
33. The Flying Tank
"So, you want to fly the 'Shturmovik'2?" the regimental commander taunted me. "Do you have any idea what a hellish job that is? No woman in history has ever flown ground attack planes. Two cannons, two machine guns, two guided missile batteries, bombs—that's the 'II's' armament. ...
34. Not a Woman-A Combat Pilot
At dawn, we pilots boarded a train for our new base in Derbent.1 For the most part, the regiment welcomed me warmly, like so many of my mentors and friends before them who helped me along the way—in the Metrostroy, the aeroclub, and the liaison squadron. But among some of the technical personnel, there was some grumbling. ...
35. Black Death
The Il-2 was peerless among combat airplanes.1 The twelve-cylinder motor was one of the most powerful aircraft engines of its era. It simply didn't compare with the U-2 aircraft, with its five-cylinder engine. The Shturmovik produced a mighty roar that terrified the Fascists as the aircraft attacked. They nicknamed it Schwarze Tod or "Black Death." ...
36. News from Stalingrad
In a desolate area of the mountains, we practiced bombing and aerial gunnery attacks against mockups of tanks, railway cars, cannons, and planes painted with the enemies' white crosses. We would climb to altitude then go into a steep dive, throttling up to full power and firing at the "targets." ...
37. Only for You
Many of our regimental comrades' families had evacuated to the Derbent region, so some of the pilots had left Derbent early to spend time with their families. One of the pilots caught up with the regiment and reported to the commander, "Arrest me, Comrade Colonel. I have killed a man." ...
38. Wing to Wing
We were desperate to get to the front, but bad weather delayed us. Well into March, the winter still seethed, with no sign of abating. When the last frosts yielded and the sun broke through, we ascended into the sky and steered a course to Saratov.1 The sky shone clear and blue, a good omen, we felt, as we combat friends flew wing to wing in a mood of celebration. ...
39. The Taman Peninsula
The regiment's new chief of staff, Captain Yashkin, called all flying personnel to the staff dugout to report on the situation at our sector of the front. When he introduced himself, he told us his background. He had come straight to the regiment from the military academy, where he hadn't even had the chance to graduate. ...
40. First Battle
All of us were terribly agitated, even the veterans, but we laughed and joked to hide our emotions. Rzhevsky told a joke about a little girl who asked her father to tell her all about locomotives, back when they were still brand new. He talked for a long while, even showing her a drawing, and then asked her, "Well, do you understand it all now?" ...
41. Tit Kirilovich
I learned to follow the flight leader as he maneuvered, skirting the treetops or ramming the throttle in to accelerate and climb with him. I learned to strafe tanks, a risky endeavor indeed. Tank cannons fired very accurately, and impulsive pilots paid for their miscalculations with their lives. ...
42. Pyotr Karev
Pyotr Timofeyevich Karev, a Muscovite, was the best flight leader in the regiment. The young pilots idolized him. I always felt safe when he led a mission. He had an uncanny ability to cheat death, despite his recklessness. Right before an attack, he'd tell a joke or make a funny comment, and I would almost forget that we were in the middle of our third ...
43. The Blue Line
One day near the end of May 1943, Regimental Commander Kozin gathered all the flying personnel at the airfield. "Comrade Pilots!" he said excitedly. "All those who are prepared to fulfill a special mission for the Northern Caucasus Front Command, step forward!" ...
44. A "Dame" on a Ship
Most of our missions took us over the roiling waters of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea. I've been afraid of water since childhood—I never learned to swim well. Flying over open water, I would listen with heightened awareness to the engine. It never sounded quite right over the sea. I hoped my seat belt would save me in the event of a water landing, ...
45. My Tail-Gunner
Division Command decided to send me to Stavropol to be trained as a navigator. Attack and fighter aircraft didn't have navigators. Every pilot did his own navigation. But each attack and fighter regiment had a staff navigator, who effectively served as Deputy Regimental Commander. Squadron navigators did double duty as Deputy Squadron Commanders. ...
We also occasionally found time to relax amid the rigors of wartime work. Tail-gunner Zhenya Berdnikov tirelessly organized the regiment's amateur performances. He was a jolly fellow, often telling jokes and tall tales for hours on end. You couldn't help but laugh when he would start dancing like Charlie Chaplin, staring goggle-eyed and singing tunes from his films. ...
47. Thank You, My Friend "llyusha"
Over and over I told my wingmen on the radio, "Maneuver, maneuver, maneuver!" I didn't relax either, thrusting my Shturmovik this way and that, accelerating and decelerating. As flight leader, I knew I would catch the brunt of the anti-aircraft fire. ...
48. The Weight Lifter
Things had changed in the regiment since the appearance of the fair sex. Our pretty female armorers had quite a positive effect on the male personnel. Some of the pilots believed that beards protected them from bullets, so many of the men had started growing them. But when the armorers arrived, out went the beards. ...
49. "This Is 'Birch Tree' ... How Do You Read?"
We received our third reinforcement of aircraft and flying personnel since we'd begun fighting in Taman. The regiment joined the 1st Belorussian Front at our new base in Karlovka, near Poltava, where Tsar Peter the Great defeated the Swedes.1 ...
50. A Father's Gift
Lieutenant Pokashevsky stood out among the new arrivals, with his broad face, mop of dark hair, and mischievous gray eyes. Instead of a proper uniform, he wore a quilted jacket over an old-fashioned soldier's blouse and civilian trousers. His worn boots looked like they had seen quite a lot. He wore his shapka-ushanka slid so far on the back of his head ...
51. Death of the Commander
On July 7, 1944, our troops liberated the town of Kovel1 from the Hitlerite invaders. We transferred to an aerodrome in that region, where I was ordered to fly a reconnaissance mission. I was to fly along the roads with a film camera and record the enemy's concentration there. ...
52. On to Poland
In May, the USSR State Defense Committee founded the 1st Polish Division, named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko.2 Our nation paid all expenses. The Polish patriots were stationed in small villages not far from the old Russian city of Ryazan. There on the sloping banks of the aka River, they plotted the liberation of Poland. ...
53. Shot Down
On August 20, 1944, we took a break from combat missions in honor of Air Force Day. We celebrated at Prince Zeltowski's lavish estate in Milanow, near Parczew. The prince had been executed by the Fascists in Warsaw two months before. The servants raved about the prince as if he were a hero. ...
54. Prisoner of War
When the other pilots returned from the Magnuszew Bridgehead, they reported that my crew had perished near the target. The military sent a death notice to Volodovo, where my mother, Stepanida Vasilyevna Yegorova, lived. ...
55. The Russian Doctor
The Hitlerites seemed to think that the best thing to do with me was to just leave me in that basement cell, dangling between life and death. They didn't torture me. They just tossed me into that damp concrete box and left me to the mercy of fate. They didn't kill me on the spot, but simply left me to rot, without medical care, most likely dying slowly in agony. ...
56. Help Me, Sister!
"Don't worry, Girl. I'm not angry! We respect strength," he said, after a pause adding, "A single word from you, and tomorrow you'll be in the best hospital in Berlin. The day after tomorrow, all the newspapers of the Reich will trumpet your name. So?" ...
I don't know what would have happened to me without them. My fellow prisoners found countless ways to show me compassion, as if their brotherly, helping hands could reach right through the walls of my cell. The English inmates gave me an overcoat. The Poles re-tailored it into a jacket in the latest fashion. ...
Memory. These memories ... For some strange reason, they awoke of their own accord and brought to light such things ... God forbid, such things! One day it suddenly stirred, dug deep, and exhumed such distant times, events, and people, some living today and some long dead. ...
59. The Colonel's Courtship
His letter surprised me and made me happy. But it also set me to thinking. Why had he written such things to me? I barely knew him. Besides, I have always felt wary of authority figures. The pilots in the regiment joked, "Yegorova always ignores the bosses, which is why she's still a lieutenant, doing the job of a lieutenant colonel." ...
60. A Reliable Fortuneteller
When my mother received the letter from me, sent from the camp by the tankists who liberated us, she thought she had gone mad. She read it several times, crossed herself, and went to see the woman next door. "Tolyushka, read this! I think I've lost my mind." ...
61. Epilogue (The Survivors Can' t Believe They Are Alive)
When his leave ended, my husband had to return to Germany. He came to fetch me at Volodovo in a small car. Since I had no military documents, traveling was a bit tricky, but we made it as far as Warsaw. The Air Force commander in Poland lent us a two-seater U-2, and we squeezed into the rear cabin behind the pilot. ...
Page Count: 244
Publication Year: 2009
OCLC Number: 835416368
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