Bomber pilotMariya Dolina

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A native of the Ukraine, with World War II starting in 1939, Dolina, who had graduated from the Kherson Flying School, lied about her age so she could go to the Engels Military Flying School and, in 1941, join the Soviet Air Force. She was assigned to the 125th Guards Divebomber Regiment, flying the Pe-2 twin-engine bomber along the 1st Baltic Front (photo below). She flew 72 daylight bombing missions. On June 2, 1943, she was ordered to bomb German positions. As the flight of nine Pe-2 bombers proceeded toward their target, their fighter escort peeled off to chase down German fighters. Dolina’s plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire, but she insisted on continuing on to her target, which she hit.


She then made a run for friendly soil, pursued by German fighters. With one engine on fire, “Our predicament was horrible!” she said years later. “The smoke entered the cockpit and I couldn’t see! My navigator reached over and pulled my goggles over my eyes. I ordered them to bail out, but they wouldn’t. As for myself, this was my plane and it had cost my government a lot of money. I was determined to save it.” She made it back to friendly territory and crash-landed the crippled plane, but she and her navigator were trapped in the burning cockpit. Friendly forces rescued the two women. In all five of the bombers were shot down, but all the crews survived. Dolina was recommended for the Hero of the Soviet Union, which was awarded to her on August 18, 1945. Despite her injuries, she continued in the Air Force and was promoted to Deputy Commander of her regiment. After the war, which the Soviets call the Great Patriotic War, Dolina dedicated herself to the plight of female war veterans. When Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev invited her to speak before the Congress of War Veterans in Moscow in 1990, she ignored her time limit and seized the opportunity to demand better treatment of female veterans. Gorbachev agreed. Fifty years after the war, Dolina was promoted to Major by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and was given the title of “Honored Citizen of Kiev” by mayor Leonid Kosakivskyi. She died March 3 at 87.

From This is True for 7 March 2010