Female Aviation Heroines
of the Great Patriotic War

by Henry Sakaida
Wartime photo of Dolina
In addition, Vladek presented her with three red roses. Maj Dolina sat us down in the living room, then plopped herself into her comfy chair and asked me why I came to Kiev. I explained through my friend Vladek (English teacher) that this was actually my second trip (see my first article "Victory Day in Kiev"). "I had finished writing a book about the women Heroes of the Soviet Union," I said. "And I had known about you from a book which I read back in 1968! When I learned a couple of years ago that you were living in Kiev, I decided that on this trip, I would make every effort to meet you!"
HSU Mariya Dolina
On October 20, 2002 Author Henry Sakaida visited with Hero of the Soviet Union Major Mariya Dolina at her home in Kiev. Henry wanted to know more about Dolinas extensive fighter-bomber career, which by the end of the war, had delivered over seventy-two mission sorties. Below Left: Henry enjoying an afternoon with Mariya Dolina, and her gracious hospitality.
Maj Dolina told us about her family life. "My first husband, who was a navigator in my regiment, died in 1972 and afterwards, I received many marriage proposals," she remarked. "But I decided to marry Litosh Vasily, my squadron armorer from the war. He told me that he fell in love with me the first time we met, but he kept
quiet and never told me! He was a remarkable man and a great husband; he died many years ago and I now live here with my son. I have two sons - one became a pilot and my son Antoli was a seaman. And I have four grandchildren."We inquired about her health. "I have problems walking because of a
spinal compression injury and I can't hear well without my hearing aid. This is all due to consequences of my crash landing on June 2, 1943 when we bombed the enemy and their fighters set my plane on fire." I knew all about this famous incident. On June 2,
1943, Dolina's regiment was ordered to bomb the Germans with nine Pe-2 medium bombers. Their escort fighters got tangled up with the enemy, leaving the bombers without protection. Heavy anti-aircraft fire hit her left engine and Dolina started to lag behind. She arrived over the target alone with enemy fighters making desperate attempts to knock her down. She dropped her bombs accurately and then tried to run for home. Her wingman dropped behind to protect them, which saved their lives. In the wild running gunfighter, her wingman was hit and had to make an emergency landing. Dolina's gunner and navigator had exhausted their ammunition supply, so they fought back by lobbing aerial grenades. Soon, these were gone. A Messerschmitt Mariya Dolina welcomes Henry Sakaidacame alongside the Pe-2. She could see the enemy's freckled face and a devilish grin. The German gestured with his hand, holding up one finger, then two. He repeated this, but Dolina had no time to ponder his meaning. Her right engine was now on fire and she was going down. "Our predicament was horrible!" recalled Dolina in an excited voice. "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. We weren't sure of the location and I looked desperately for a large river. If we crossed it, we would be in friendly territory."
The burning bomber made a belly landing in a field, which started an immense fire all around. The force of the landing jammed the canopy shut, trapping the two women inside. The fire entered the cabin. The male gunner was hurt in his leg, but he climbed up and pried the canopy open while the women were roasting alive. The three managed to clear the wreck and threw themselves down on the ground to extinguish the fire. Then the plane blew up. Dolina was burned on her chest, had a back injury, and was in a state of shock.The crash landing attracted the attention of some friendly troops. Still in shock and disoriented, Dolina tried to hit them when they approached.
They were quickly given medical attention and learned that they had just crossed over the large river and were only two kilometers from the enemy lines.
While recovering in the hospital, Dolina recounted her harrowing tale. She asked a pilot about the hand gestures that the German pilot had made to her. It was explained that her adversary was asking her whether she wanted to be shot down in one or two passes! In this famous combat, which went down into Soviet aviation war history, the nine Pe-2s demolished their targets. In the aerial battle that ensued, four German fighters were shot down, one of which was claimed by Dolina's gunner. Five of the bombers were also shot down, but all the crews survived. As a result of this combat, Dolina was recommended for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, which she received on 18 August 1945. She had flown 72 daylight sorties, which is considered a miracle since the life expectancy of a daylight bomber pilot decreased greatly with each mission flown. "My mother always said I was born under a lucky star!" she mused.

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