Monday, 2 November 2009

Stalin's Falcons: the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment

The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment was an all female Soviet regiment formed during the Second World war. It came to be known as Stalin's Falcons.

In April 1943, two Soviet fighter pilots, Raisa Sumachevskaia and Tamara Pamiatnykh, engaged a group of 42 German bombers and shot down four. Pamiatnykh and Sumachevskaia were scrambled to intercept two reconnaissance aircraft. When they reached the patrol area, they discovered instead two groups of German bombers-forty-two aircraft in all. Their regimental commander, who was in the command post when they radioed for instruction, said, "What was there to do? I got on the radio and commanded them, "Attack!"
Attack they did. Driving a wedge into the German formation, the pilots managed to scatter the bombers, forcing them to drop their bombs well short of target. Moreover, each woman shot down two enemy bombers. The target of the German attack, a rail junction crowded with Soviet troops and fuel supplies, remained unscathed.
"Some representatives from Great Britain saw all of this," wrote Aleksandr Gridnev, their commander. "they reported it to the King of England, and he sent the girls inscribed gold watches. But our own people never even found the time to give them [gold star of the] Hero of the Soviet Union medal. I believe this is one of the most distinguished victories of the entire war. They should hang two gold stars on each of them for this.
The pilots of the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment received little recognition either in their own time of from history. In its ranks, the 586th included some of the best pilots the Soviets had to offer. Three members of a well-known prewar women's aerobatic team, which performed before crowds of thousands at Tushino Airfield in Moscow, flew with the regiment during the war: Raisa Beliaeva, Valeriia Khomiakova, and team leader Evgeniia Prokhorova. Fighter aces Lilliia Litviak and Katia Budanova were first assigned to the 586th before transferring to another regiment. However, the history of the 586th is the source of disagreement and disputes. Controversies focus on the capabilities and reasons for dismissal of its first commander, Tamara Kazarinova; the circumstances surrounding the deaths of all the women just mentioned; and the reasons for its failure to achieve Guards status or to receive a single Hero of the Soviet Union award.
The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment served from April 1942 through May 1945 as part of Fighter Aviation of the Air Defense Forces of the Soviet Union (IA/PVO). Flying modern Yak-series fighter aircraft , the unit completed more than 9,000 flights, of which 4,419 were combat sorties: 38 enemy aircraft were destroyed and 42 damaged in 125 air engagements. The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment was assigned to protect fixed targets like airfields, cities and transportation nodes from enemy attacks. The regiment supported the Battle of Stalingrad (sending some of its pilots to augment all-male fighter regiments) and performed air defense duties at Voronezh, Kursk, Kiev, Debrecen, Budapest and Vienna. The regiment was most active during the middle period of the war, especially while based near Voronezh and Kursk. During the first and last months of its existence, the 586th was based in areas where enemy activity was relatively light. By 1944, the Luftwaffe had increasing difficulty mustering forces to attack the fixed targets defended by PVO regiments. Although the 586th began the war with all female pilots, it later included male pilots as well: women and men flew and fought side by side in the 586th.
The regiment was a wartime creation. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941, only a few Soviet women were actively serving in military aviation. There were however, thousands of trained women pilots in the civilian sector, many of whom immediately volunteered for active duty. They were rejected by the Soviet military during the first weeks of the war. But in October 1941 the Soviet government permitted several hundred women to enter training in military aviation: an all female aviation group was formed under the command of the famous aviator Marina Raskova. Aviation Group 122 trained the entire personnel-pilots, navigators, mechanics, and ground crews-for three new regiments: a dive bomber regiment, a night bomber regiment, and the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment.
Recruitment began in October 1941 by contacting women pilots already in the military and civil air fleets and in flying clubs. Potential navigators and ground crews were recruited mainly through the Komsomol (Young Communist League). Women with some technical background were preferred, but no medical or physical fitness examination was required during the initial selection process. Interviews were conducted in Moscow, when the German army seemed poised to overrun the city. There were far more applicants than there were positions. In particular there was a great surplus of pilots, but a shortage of navigators; many women with pilot credentials had to settle for a navigator's position. Those selected for pilot placement had generally accumulated significant flying time and experience. After the initial selections were made, uniforms were issued-men's military uniforms. Women did not receive dress uniforms designed for women until 1943, and for flying, they always used standard male Soviet flying clothing and gear. The entire group of several hundred women was then sent by rail from Moscow to Engels; they left on 17 October and arrived on 25 October, after many adventures on the journey.

Questions You Just Can't Answer

If practice makes perfect and no body's perfect, why practice?
What would a chair look like, if your knees bent the other way?
Why do our noses run and our feet smell?
What does "it" mean in the sentence "What time is it?"
If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?

A Bit Of Culture

As regular readers know, here at the Journal we do like to promote culture whenever possible. We like to open up the minds of our readers, to inspire them, to enlighten them, to educate and inform them with serious articles such as the one that follows.


The statue of David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture sculpted by Michelangelo from 1501 to 1504. The 5.17 metre (17ft) marble statue portrays the Biblical King David in the nude. Unlike previous depictions of David which portray the hero after his victory over Goliath, Michelangelo chose to represent David before the fight contemplating the battle yet to come. The statue, carved from carrara marble, stands in the Galeria dell'Accademia, Florence.

For the past two years the statue has been on loan to America. It has been standing in a leading New York Art Gallery, but is about to be returned to Florence.

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Who Am I?

The answer to Monday's
Who Am I? puzzle
Andrew Marr