Diary of Anna Yegorova, a young pilot in the Soviet Air Force during WWII. In this entry, the young lieutenant convinces a terrified soldier to help her save her Po-2 (aka U-2) biplane from being destroyed by enemy fire.
He seized my hand and pulled me, sometimes crawling, sometimes running, up the hill. The shells had already made a ruin of the windmill, its broken wings hanging down listlessly. The airplane, too, was riddled with bullet holes.
As I climbed onto the wing, my terror finally caught up with me. Shock waves from the explosions had torn out the front seat and flung it into the instrument panel in the rear cabin. A thought flashed through my mind: what if the plane was too damaged to fly? I jumped into the cockpit and made a cursory inspection. The damage didn’t seem too serious.
“Take hold of the prop!” I cried, but the driver had already done it without my invitation. “Pull it through a few rotations. Then pull down on the blade as hard as you can and jump out of the way.”
“And-a-one!” he cried, yanking hard, and the propeller roared to life. The young driver vanished, as if whisked away on the propeller slipstream…
The Germans peppered the U-2 even more feverishly with bullets. I climbed out of the cabin to turn the aircraft so it pointed in the right direction. I don’t know where I found the strength to muscle the tail around. Fear probably played a large role…
I took off right under the Fascists’ noses and headed eastward. The sun had set, and twilight enveloped the land. I had no working instruments, but the engine was purring contentedly, and I was alive. But how would I land in the dark?