The White Lily
The White Lily is the never-before-told story of Lilia Litvyak, the determined Moscow teenager, who as the world’s first-female flying ace, who humiliated the German Air Force and became Hitler’s worst public relations nightmare. The White Lily is not only about Lilia’s life and times; it is also meant to be a tribute to the extraordinary accomplishments of all women who, to this day, labor in male-dominated societies.
May 1, 1943. A Russian YAK with the number 44 pierces the fog alone, chasing Nazi Messerschmitts. After a hail of fire, two, then three Messerschmitts explode in midair.
Eight years prior… Moscow.
Lilia,14, reads about three Russian women flying 7,000 miles across Russia. She decides she wants to fly. Her father scoffs at the notion. Secretly, she gets a part-time job after school in the office off the nearby Taganka Aerodrome. She also convinces the aerodrome’s best pilot, Anatoliy Morozov, to exchange flying lessons for kissing lessons. From the outset, it’s clear Lilia possesses extraordinary flying skills and Anatoliy is smitten with her. By 16, the now accomplished Lilia begins teaching aspiring male pilots. Then, sadly tragedy strikes twice. During the testing of a new aircraft, Anatoly crashes and dies and her beloved father, a loyal Soviet railroad manager, is wrongly accused of being an enemy of the state and shot in front of a firing squad.
Shortly thereafter, a depressed and emotionally-conflicted Lilia realizes that Hitler threatens to invade and enslave Russia. Having trained some 50 men by the age of 18, she volunteers for the Air Force, naively thinking her record stands for itself. She is rebuffed on multiple occasions based on the prevailing Soviet societal bias that a woman’s place is in the home. More determined than ever, Lilia, now 19, convinces the Soviet’s highest-ranking woman officer, Marina Raskova, to seek Stalin’s approval to make Lilia the world’s first female fighter pilot.
After she completes officer training, Lieutenant Litvyak is assigned to the elite 586th air squadron. Her dashing, battle-hardened squadron leader, Captain Alexi Solomatin, is reluctant to send a young pilot into battle with no combat experience. After days of intense ordnance practice, Lilia’s accuracy convinces her Captain she is battle-ready. Soon, to Solomatin’s chagrin, two additional women join the regiment: a soft-spoken mechanic Inna Pasportnikova, 29, and a brash, outspoken, former crop-duster named Katya Budanova, 28.
As the war rages, Lilia, Solomatin, and their squadron register one air victory after another against the Nazi’s Messerschmitts that are faster and have more advanced firepower. Lilia even shoots down and interrogates one of the Nazi’s greatest aces, the Blonde Knight, Eric Hartman. Lilia’s exploits appear regularly in the popular newspaper Pravda. The stories reach an infuriated Hitler who places a generous bounty on her head.
With each ensuing air success, Solomatin becomes more emotionally connected to Lilia, easily the most attractive Soviet woman warrior in the air or on land. Lilia is reluctant to accept Solomatin’s advances because of his condescending attitude and the uncertain nature of war. Against her better instincts, the couple share a few private moments at sunset. Lilia is surprised by his soulful warmth and love of poetry. Solomatin’s cause is aided by the intense lobbying by Inna and Katya who tell Lilia she will never find another Russian man with a soul like Lyosha (Katya’s nickname for Solomatin) in peace or war. The couple agree to marry in a proxy ceremony, which they will formally legalize after the war. The day before the wedding, Katya is shot down in a dogfight in clear view of Lilia and Solomatin.
Despite a deep sadness, Lilia and her beloved Lyosha marry as planned, convinced “Katya would have wanted it that way.” Under clear sunny skies the couple exchanges vows in front of the entire squadron, and the squadron commander, Major Baranov, gives them his tent to spend their wedding night.
The next day, the war continues to rage and the sky is again filled with Messerschmitts. In the ensuing battle, Lilia is wounded and crashes to earth. There, Lilia learns Solomatin was also hit and forced to evacuate his plane. Unfortunately, his parachute stuck in a tree, and he was mortally wounded by a hail of Nazi machine gun fire.
Angry, bitter, and enraged, Lilia defies the odds and returns to the skies days later. Carelessly flying solo, she pursues an enemy plane into a cluster of dark, dense clouds. Suddenly, she finds herself surrounded. The lead enemy pilot, Captain Hartmann, recognizes the white lily on Lilia’s fuselage. He sneaks up behind her with both cannons blazing, turning her wings into Swiss cheese and her cockpit into a fiery mass. Major Baranov arrives with reinforcements. Hartmann realizes his squad is vastly outnumbered and decides to retreat. Baranov positions himself under Hartmann plane, shooting straight up. Hartmann plane bursts, and the pieces fly by Baranov.
Despite Lilia’s amazing record of 268 successful missions and 15 solo kills, she was not accorded the country’s highest military honor, Hero of the Soviet Union, until May 5, 1990, 47 years after she perished at the age of 21.