Anna Egorova was a female Soviet pilot who was not accustomed to retreat before life’s difficulties. She managed to cheat death in World War II, overcoming heavy air battles, bad weather, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and hopelessness.
One Nazi at Sachsenhausen, looking at the dying Anna, said, “These Russian witches are very tenacious.”
Anna was born on September 23, 1916 in the Russian village of Volodovo in a peasant family. The family had eight children. Her father Alexander Egorov, a veteran of the First World War and the Civil War, died in 1925 at the age of 48.
Anna graduated from seven classes of schooling and later got a job in Moscow to work in the construction of the subway as a fitter and engraver.
In addition, she was fascinated by aviation, and trained at the flying club in the village of Maly Vyazyam.
In 1938, she was sent to the Ulyanovsk school of Osoaviakhim pilots. Sometime later, she was fired because her elder brother was an “enemy of the people.” However, before the start of WWII, she changed her place of residence several times and continued to learn flying skills.
At the beginning of the war, Anna found herself in the 130th Communications Squadron at the Southern Front. She made 236 sorties in her Po-2 plane for the purpose of communication and reconnaissance.
In February 1942, she received the Order of the Red Banner. Later in the year she achieved a transfer to attack aircraft.
Subsequently, Anna fought as part of the 805th Assault Air Regiment and was the navigator of her regiment. She piloted the IL-2 aircraft and participated in the battles on Taman and the Crimea.
For the establishment of a smoke screen, due to which Soviet troops were able to break through the “Blue Line” over Novorossiysk, Anna was awarded the Second Order of the Red Banner.
However, she could not always contain her emotions after a battle, later recalling one occasion when,
I climbed out of the IL-2 cabin and without taking off my parachute and headset, I ran away from the aircraft parking, unable to hold back any longer. I fell down and burst into tears… I cried, remembering how my fighting friends fell into the sea — they fell like a mortal wounded bird.
After that, Anna participated in the liberation of Poland and was the only female pilot who, together with the shooter Evdokia Nazakrina, made up the first female crew in attack aircraft. She had some narrow escapes including an unexploded shell that lodged itself in the wing of her plane.
In total, during the Second World War, Anna Egorova made 277 sorties. On August 22, 1944, in an air battle over the village of Studzianka, Poland, her airplane received critical damage and caught fire.
Evdokia Nazakrina was killed, but Anna was able to jump out of the plane before it crashed. One of the witnesses of the incident, a German soldier after many years described what he saw:
A Russian pilot was brought from the front in a sanitary cart. The guy looked badly mutilated with his overalls burnt and torn in rags. His face was covered with oil and blood. When the helmet and overalls were removed in the operating room, we were stunned–the pilot turned out to be a woman!
All those present were more impressed by the behavior of this bold Russian pilot. She didn’t utter a single sound when, during the treatment, pieces of skin were removed from her. How in a woman can there be such inhuman endurance?
Thus, Anna ended up in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Thanks to the nurse Julia Krashchenko, Doctor Georgy Sinyakov, and Belgrade University professor Pavle Trpinacz, she managed to survive.
These people shared their food with her and took care of her health by obtaining additional medications from the British, American, and French prisoners.
In January 1945, the tankers of the Soviet 5th Army liberated the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Due to being suspected as a traitor, Anna was sent to the Soviets’ SMERSH counterintelligence department where she was interrogated.
After 10 days of interrogation, Anna was released. Only after many years did she had the courage to admit that what was happening there:
In captivity they beat me, insulted me – there was a reason: we are enemies for the Germans. And then? They put me in “SMERSH” and put a soldier with a machine gun on me…. They started to insult me with [foul language].
Anna was cleared of suspicion, but health problems did not allow her to return to the war. Instead, she went to Moscow to work on the construction of the subway.
After the end of WWII, she married the commander of her former division, Vyacheslav Timofeev. In subsequent years, Anna was engaged in oratory at schools and raising her two children.
In her book Держись, сестренка (“Hold on, little sister”), Anna, after many years, replied to the Nazi who was surprised at her vitality: “The image of the motherland gave us strength, inspired faith in our victory. And we survived–in spite of death! ”
In 1965, Anna was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. In May 2006, she was honored with the public title “National Hero” and the Order “For Honor and Valor.”
She received more than 20 different medals and orders in total in her lifetime. On October 29, 2009 in Moscow, at 93 years old, Anna Timofeyeva died.