Yakovlev Yak-1

Lylia Litvyak

The Soviet Union was the only major combatant to employ women in front line combat positions in World War II.  Perhaps the most famous example is Lt Litvyak.


After the jump, I’ll look at this famous pilot and the plane she was best known for.

Studying the Soviet history of World War II proves the lie of “The winners write the history”.*  Most reliable history and documentation we have of the “Great Patriotic War” comes from German sources.  Almost everything we have from the Soviet side is shameless propaganda heavy on human interest stories.  The situation has improved some since the fall of the Soviet Union, at least many records and statistics are now available to historians.  But the story of Lilia Litvyak is the sort of thing Soviet writers loved.  They called her “The White Lily of Stalingrad”.

Lilia was a talented young pilot who pushed hard to be allowed to fly combat missions.  She met some resistance because of her youth, but was eventually allowed to fly with an all woman group (586th Fighter Regiment).  For reasons that aren’t clear (at least to me, I’ve seen different explanations) she transferred to a men’s unit (437th Fighter Regiment) along with three other woman and their ground crews (also women) in the summer of 1942.  One explanation I saw that made sense was that these four women had all trained in the Yak-1, while the other women were flying the LaGG-3; so they transferred to a unit flying the type they were best suited for.

IMG_8068 IMG_8067

Whatever the reason, the result was fortuitous.  Lilia became the first woman fighter pilot to score a kill in air to air combat (a Ju 88), the first woman to shoot down an enemy fighter (a Bf 109G) and the top scoring woman ace of all time with 12 individual + 4 “group” kills (Soviet term for what we would normally call a “shared” kill).  Maybe.  Different sources claim she had five, eight, eleven or twelve kills.  Some sources claim another woman actually had more; although I believe since Soviet records were opened its generally accepted Lt. Litvyak had the most.  But these are the hazards of Soviet “history”.  Epic stories are told, truth is fuzzy.

What is known, is that on August 1, 1943 she flew her last mission.  She bounced a German bomber formation, and was in turn jumped by their fighter escort.  She was last seen being chased by eight Bf 109s.  She was 21 years old, which was still young for a fighter pilot.

The model is an early Yak-1 from the Accurate Miniatures kit.  The Yak-1 was a part of the generation of “new” aircraft the Soviets were introducing at the very start of World War II, and it is generally considered the best of that bunch.  Overall it was about as good as a Bf 109F or Spitfire Mk V.  Later derivatives of this design would still be among the Soviets’ best at the end of the war.


The Yak-1 was lightly armed with a 20 mm cannon in the propeller hub and two 7.62 mm machine guns in the upper cowling.

The Yak-1 was lightly armed with a 20 mm cannon in the propeller hub and two 7.62 mm machine guns in the upper cowling.

“Yellow 44” is the plane Lt. Litvyak flew in the first months of 1943.  She had two confirmed kills (both Bf 109s) in this plane, before replacing it with a newer model Yak-1b.

A couple of unique characteristics: Soviet aircraft had no upper wing insignia; and notice the clear housings on either side of the cockpit, those are the fuel gauges.

A couple of unique characteristics: Soviet aircraft had no upper wing insignia; and notice the clear housings on either side of the cockpit, those are the fuel gauges.

The Yak-1 is a small aircraft.

The Yak-1 is a small aircraft.

Lydia Litvyak.JPG

Senior Lt. Lilia Litvyak

* – The Peloponnesian War is the first war we have a contemporary history of.  It comes entirely from Athenian Writers, even though Sparta won the war.  So perhaps we can say “the winners write the history” is the oldest lie in military history!

About atcDave

I'm 5o-something years old and live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. I'm happily married to Jodie. I was an air traffic controller for 33 years and recently retired; grew up in the Chicago area, and am still a fanatic for pizza and the Chicago Bears. My main interest is military history, and my related hobbies include scale model building and strategy games.
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9 Responses to Yakovlev Yak-1

  1. Pingback: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-3 | Plane Dave

  2. Billy R Leon says:

    Hi Dave, This is a wonderful little aircraft. I know that over 8,700 examples were built. But do you have any data on the production breakdown on the variants?

    • atcDave says:

      Funny I just did some of that on the Yak-9 post. I had 43000 for all of this family. Around 5000 Yak-3, 6000 Yak-7, 17000 Yak-9 (excluding post-War variants of Yak-9).
      But I did not have a break down within the Yak-1. I’ll look later when I get home and see what I can find.

      • atcDave says:

        I think the problem is that officially all Yak-1 were just Yak-1. With the bubble canopy, sometimes Yak-1b or Yak-1m, there wasn’t actually a change in official designation. At least as near as I can tell!

  3. Billy R Leon says:

    I think you are quite correct. Some of the data I have collected is sketchy at best. Seems the 1b designation was used on aircraft produced after 10/1942. The 1m apparently was the prototype for the Yak-3. It seems that only two units were produced. So if the figure of 8,127 examples of the Yak-1 are correct. I have 4,531 1’s, 4,188 1b’s, and the 2 1m’s. I know losses were high but still an eye catching machine.

    • atcDave says:

      I’m sure one of my sources said -1b and -1m were the same, but Wikipedia agrees the -1m was the prototype for the -3

      • Billy R Leon says:

        By the way, nice job on the model. I used to build them myself before my eyes started failing (diabetes). But I recently acquired some visual aids and thought I might start building again. I have like 165 kits in storage. Do you have any interest in World War I machines? I am looking to start on a Sopwith Camel. BTW Bears fan myself, see a glutton for punishment. 🙂

      • atcDave says:

        I do worry time will keep me from getting too far into my stash. Eyes are good so far, but I have arthritis and my left hand is not at all steady. So we’ll just see how long I can go…
        I am interested in WWI and WWI aircraft, but no where near what I am for WWII. And bi-planes require some different skills! Mainly rigging. The small number of WWII bi-planes I have is intimidating enough, I’ve never felt ambitious enough in that regard to go further back in time. The stash I have now could last me 20 years, which likely exceeds my expiration date.

        No doubt being a Bears fan has been rough these last few years. Like pretty much since 1985! Obviously a few good years in there, but my enthusiasm is waning. Since the end of the Lovie Smith era I get less excited every year. Presumably a new coach next year will be another “rebuild”. Might be interesting if Justin Fields developes into anything, but the last time the Bears actually had a good quarterback was before I was born.

    • atcDave says:

      And yeah wastage on the Eastern front was just staggering. I saw that the Yak-1 was officially retired from service in 1950. Not sure if there were actually any Yak-1 units in service that late? Maybe something well into the interior? Or maybe it was just in scattered use as a trainer and hack that long?

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