Female Badasses in History: Anna Timofeyeva-Yegorova (1916-2009)
Anna Yegorova stands out for her badassery even among other Soviet aviatrixes because she was one of the few female pilots in the USSR that did not join the female fighter brigade of the Soviet air force (the so-called Night Witches) but lead male pilots into battle. She also survived more battle missions than many other pilots, survived German captivity and broke out of an NKVD prison after the war.
Anna Yegorova was born in a village in Western Russia as one of 16 children of a peasant family. Not being satisfied with prospect of plowing field and having 16 children herself she decided to make good use of the opportunities the new socialist state had to offer her and at the age of 16 went off to Moscow to study history and physics, work as a locksmiths apprentice, help built the Moscow metro as a construction worker and become a flight instructor.
When German attacked the Soviet Union in June 1941, Anna was one of the first people at her local recruiting office and since she was already an experienced pilot, was drafted into the Soviet airforce to fly reconnaissance missions against German positions, which she did for the next two years. Flying reconnaissance missions was one of the most dangerous jobs a pilot could have in WWII. It meant to fly low in broad daylight in a plane with an open hood mainly manufactured from wood being up against heavily armed German fighter planes as well as anti-aircraft batteries.
The dangers of her work as well as her unquestionable badassery are probably best exemplified by a mission she flew in mid-1942. Order to deliver a set of important orders to a Soviet frontline commander, Anna found herself facing a German fighter plane hardly 20 minutes into her mission. Being much faster than her and having machine guns at his disposal while Anna only had her handgun, the fighter pilot shot her aircraft full of holes and managed to set in on fire that. After flying as far as she could in an airplane on fire and under fire Anna parachuted from her airplane. In a scene comparable to Hitchcock’s North By Northwest she evaded the German fighter pilot who was still shooting at her by hiding in a nearby field. After the German aircraft had given up, Anna ran all the way to the frontlines to deliver her orders all while being bruised and injured and having evaded death just a short time before.
Due to actions like this her officers decided to make Anna a fighter pilot. As one of the few women she didn’t join the female pilot unit of the Soviet airforce but instead was the only woman assigned to the all-male 805th Ground Attack Regiment. In this capacity Anna fought the German as well as misogynistic colleagues in the airforce for the next two years. She was mainly assigned to missions that consisted of bombing German ground troops and installations from the air. She flew a total of 243 missions in the next two years, at a time when the average life span of a Soviet pilot did seldom exceed 10 missions. She proofed herself so many times eventually that she not only received the order of the Red Banner, rose in the ranks to Lieutenant and was promoted to the 805th’s squad leader. Even at a time when it was not uncommon for women to serve in the Red Army this was an outstanding achievement. She lead the men under her command in many battles until in 1944 she was shot down by a German anti-air gun over Poland. Anna was brought to a German POW camp where she not only survived her injuries and the German’s infamous bad treatment of Soviet POWs but also Gestapo interrogation. Soviet troops liberated the camp in early 1945 and Anna was immediately arrested again under the suspicion that as the only woman in the camp she must have been a German spy in order to survive. She was brought to an NKVD prison in Western Russia and interrogated for the following 10 days. Lore has it that on the 11th day Anna knocked over two armed guards, bust into the room of the Corporal in charge and boldly exclaimed: “You can shoot me right now but I won’t let you torture me.” She was released the same day.
After the war the airforce released her due to the injuries she sustained. Anna Yegorova went on to teach High School history and physics (certainly as a teacher you didn’t want to mess with) and continued to fly on some occasions. She died in 2009 of old age.