Share This Article

Red Sky, Black Death: A Soviet Woman Pilot’s Memoir of the Eastern Front

by Anna Timofeyeva-Yegorova, Slavica, Bloomington, Ill., 2009, $29.95.

“So you want to fly the Shturmovik? 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 ‘Il’s’ armament. Trust me, even well-trained pilots have a hard time with the thing.” That was the first but by no means the last time Anna Yegorova was told that she wanted to fly aircraft not meant for a woman.

Yegorova went on to gain distinction and flight leader status flying Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmoviks with the 805th Attack Aviation Regiment until she was shot down and spent five months in Stalag III-C Alte-Drewitz. She later survived 10 days of torture at the hands of SMERSH, the Soviet counterspy agency, until her captors were convinced that she had not deliberately deserted to the Nazis.

Red Sky, Black Death is the autobiography of an exceptional woman whose outspokenness raised eyebrows among superior officers and political commissars alike, and whose spirit conquered the wartime sky. Translated and edited by Margarita Ponomaryova and Kim Green, this episodic memoir gives a can – did picture of a girl brought up under—and later defying—Josef Stalin’s repressive regime. Anyone with an interest in World War II aviation will find it an unusual perspective on a less-covered aspect of the air war and one hell of an adventurous read.


Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.