Today is International Women’s Day, and so we are going to use photographer and pilot Anne Noggle’s work for a pair or amazing stories. And a women pilots’ quilt. (There will be more during Women’s History Month through March.)
Photographer and fellow wartime pilot Anne Noggle’s portrait of Anna Timofeyeva-Yegorova. Notice the ‘broach’. There’s quite a story behind it, and it was hard-earned.
Anne Noggle was a highly regarded photographer in her own right, but she’s here for two reasons. The first was she was a WASP, the American World War Two Women’s Air Service Pilots, women who signed up to fly military aircraft around the United States to relieve young men from doing that job, so the men could go off and fight. Thirty-eight WASP women pilots were killed performing these important ferry and target tug roles.
Postwar, Noggle (seen above in self portraits left in 1943, right and 1987) flew as a cropduster pilot, and developed a career as a photographer, teaching many, including Jim Holbrook.
The second reason is that Noggle found out that Soviet women had also flown aircraft during what they knew as the Great Patriotic War, and those women had flown and fought in front-line combat, against the Germans. in the eighties and nineties she visited Russia to meet with these women at their reunions. (Vodka was involved, as combat pilots, male or female, have certain rules.) She took portrait photos of them, as an essay, and also wrote a book ‘A Dance With Death’. She pioneered attention to these women in the west, where they were then almost unknown, a consequence of post-war Stalinist suppression and the Cold War demonisation of Russia.
A photo of two happy women in a kitchen, a very everyday scene, on the surface. (Photo by Jim Holbrook Photography.) The story behind it is incredible.
On the right of the photo is Anne Noggle. Anna Alexandrovna Timofeyeva-Yegorova (Анна Александровна Тимофеева-Егорова) on the left, volunteered to fly for Russia at the start of the Great Patriotic War. She had been a steelworker and a tiler on the building of the Moscow Metro as well as book-keeper and learned to fly, becoming a flying instructor – all despite her brother’s arrest as an enemy of the people, and her expulsion from school as a result. She had been one of 16 children in a peasant family – eight of whom died in infancy.
Flying with the Red Army Air Force (VVS) from 1941, Yegorova flew hundreds of reconnaissance and communication missions with the 130th Air Liaison Squadron in the Polikarpov Po-2, open cockpit two seat biplane – barely a front line combat type – and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner for distinguished service.
In a crash, which was ascribed to ‘pilot error’, she was downgraded to training, but in 1943, Timofeyeva she got back to combat flying in the Ilyushin Il-2 ‘Stormovik‘ armoured tank buster with the 805th Attack Aviation Regiment. The only woman pilot in the unit she flew many more missions when, leading as a flight commander, over the Magnuszew bridgehead near Warsaw, on 22 August 1944, her aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and her gunner, Yevdokiya ‘Dusya’ Alekseyevna Nazarkina killed. With flames coming into the cockpit Timofeyeva attempted to complete the attack so her unit would also continue, but her aircraft was hit again and she was blown out of the aircraft as it exploded. Heavily burned and knocked unconscious, Yegorova awoke while falling and managed to pull her ripcord, at low level. Her parachute failed to deploy properly, so her spine, and multiple other bones were broken when she hit the ground.
Captured by the Germans, she received no medical treatment from them, but some from her fellow prisoners of war (PoWs) and later by a Dr. Georgy Sinyakov.
‘Anna points to a photo of a hand-woven straw purse decorated with an embroidered wing insignia and the Cyrillic initials “A.E.” “They made it for me in secret,” she explains, her eyes shining. Among the Allied prisoners at the Nazi POW camp where she spent five months in 1944, the young lieutenant was a sensation: A female pilot had been captured! At great risk, her fellow PoWs conspired to send her kindnesses—concealing her documents, weaving her a Soviet Air Force purse, and launching an insurrection to demand that the camp allow another prisoner, a Russian doctor, to treat her wounds.’ Kim Green, pilot, instructor and editor, adds.
It is simply amazing she did not die. Over that timed she slowly recovered while facing interrogation from prison guards, the SS, and the Gestapo, but never once broke under interrogation.
Back home, Timofeyeva was presumed dead and was recommended for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but this was re-graded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class. Her gunner, Nazarkina, was also nominated for the title Hero of the Soviet Union, but was ignored. When, on 31 January 1945, Soviet forces overran the Küstrin prisoner camp, rather than being feted, Yegorova was interrogated as a ‘traitor’ for eleven days at an NKVD filtration camp for returning Soviet prisoners. Stalin had stated prisoners were automatically turncoats. Her awards were confiscated, and she was called, as she recalled “a traitor” and a “Fascist bitch.”.
Image via Kim Green from the book website here.
Again she transcended her circumstances as broke into the commander’s office, past armed guards, and demanded he shoot her because she was not prepared to be abused any further. She was then medically discharged from the armed forces, and ignored, like her fellow women pilots in post-war Soviet Russia. Because of her former PoW status, Yegorova’s membership in the Communist Party was suspended and to forfeit her party’s card “…for the failure to pay the membership dues during five months.”. It took an appeal to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for her party membership to be reinstated. Later, in spite of medical advice due to her her injuries, she had two children Pyotr and Igor, with her postwar husband, Vyacheslav Timofeev, her last unit’s commanding officer.
The subject of a feature article in the Literaturnaya Gazeta in 1961, in 1965, she was finally awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Her biography was published in English as ‘Red Sky, Black Death‘ edited by Kim Green. She saw it six months before she died after a long illness in 1991.
She remains unsurpassed.
James Kightly, Vintage Aero Writer.
References and picture sources. Biography ‘Red Sky, Black Death’. Wikipedia. Women in Aviation. Jim Holbrook Photography. Alex Traube Photography. Badass of the week. Russian School Project. Anne Noggle Photo Archive. ‘A Dance with Death’ – Noggle.