Ekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko, was born 105 years ago, on September 14 (1st O.S.), September 1916 in the village of Koroshchino of the Ovruch district of the Volyn province (now the Zhytomyr region), the tenth child in a poor peasant family with many children. “She was born for aviation, like a bird for flight!” – Aviation Lieutenant General A.I. Pushkin, Hero of the Soviet Union. It was on his plane that E. Zelenko made her last heroic flight.
As a child, Katya spent a lot of time on the street with the boys and tried not to be inferior to them in street sports games. “From childhood, Catherine was attracted to male professions,” recalled her sister Sophia, “together with her older brother Konstantin, she skillfully wielded a plane, an ax or a chisel, a file, made models of various machines, gliders and airplanes. Apparently, then the dream of flying was born … “
The girl enthusiastically began to study at the Voronezh flying club, and then continued her studies at the Orenburg military aviation school of pilots and observer pilots named after I. K.E. Voroshilov. Ekaterina’s friend, Honored Test Pilot of the USSR Nina Rusakova, recalled: “… Katya and I were friends back in the Voronezh flying club, and then both of us were sent to Orenburg. Here we lived with her in the same room, studied with the same instructor. She was stocky, wore a short haircut. Energetic, brave, persistent, she was in no way inferior to the guys. “
After graduating with honors from the aviation school in 1934, eighteen-year-old Ekaterina entered the 19th Light Bomber Aviation Brigade, based in Kharkov. During her service, she managed to master seven types of aircraft.
When the Soviet-Finnish war began, E. Zelenko asked to go to the front – and became the only female pilot who took part in the Finnish campaign.
In the winter of 1939-1940. She fought in the 3rd Squadron of the 11th Light Bomber Aviation Regiment (8th Army Air Force).
On the Finnish front, commissar A.G. Rytov, later Colonel-General of Aviation: “Once I arrived at a regiment stationed at a lake airfield. On the shore there were several houses in which the pilots lived. I go into one of them. There is not a speck on the floor, there are gauze curtains on the windows, the table is covered with a tablecloth, and even a spruce branch with cones in a jar flaunts.
– This is order! – I praised the pilots. – Well done! Who creates such coziness among you?
The pilots are standing, smiling meaningfully. Then one of them proudly says:
– Our mistress does not tolerate disorder.
– What is such a mistress?
– And the real one. Behind this curtain.
And the pilot pointed with his hand to the calico canopy hanging from the telephone line.
And rightly so: the edge of the curtain rises, and a girl comes out. She is wearing high fur boots, a well-fitted tunic, belted by an officer’s belt. Three dice each on blue buttonholes.
– Senior Lieutenant Ekaterina Zelenko! – she bravely reports and adds embarrassedly, – I introduce myself to Catherine, so as not to be confused with a man.
In appearance, Zelenko somewhat resembled a guy. The woman in her was betrayed by brown burning eyes and small crimson-red lips. “
She made reconnaissance flights behind enemy lines, bombed enemy targets.
From Finland I wrote to my sister, with whom I became especially close after the death of my mother in 1937: “What wonderful places here! It is simply impossible to convey in words. If I were a poet, I would definitely write poetry. Imagine: a forest and a forest without end and without edge, lakes, snow, a lot of snow. In a word, something incomparable, amazing. If it weren’t for the war … I have already had the occasion to transport “Voroshilov kilograms” to the White Finnish bandits many times. Nice treats, what do you think? I became an avid skydiver. As you can see, Sonya, it was not for nothing that I jumped from the barn with an umbrella! .. “
For the destruction of the enemy’s artillery battery and ammunition depot in the Finnish war, E. Zelenko was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
“She flies to combat missions with great desire, in bad weather conditions and in difficult conditions, she is cool-headed and calculating. Fired by anti-aircraft artillery, she boldly continues to fight, she performs the task perfectly. The intelligence data delivered by Zelenko is always accurate not only within the time frame and scope of the assignment, but also supplemented with valuable information obtained by a reasonable initiative. “
After that, as the poet said, “the war is not famous”, Catherine returned to Kharkov, where the new Su-2 short-range bomber was mass-produced – a single-engine, fairly light and maneuverable, armed with five machine guns. Zelenko perfectly mastered the new aircraft and soon began to train much older pilots. As a pilot-instructor from October 1940 to May 1941, 23-year-old Katya took part in the retraining of the leadership of nine aviation regiments.
From the first day of World War II, Zelenko took part in battles as deputy commander of the 5th squadron of the 135th bomber aviation regiment (16th mixed aviation division, 6th Army Air Force, Southwestern Front).
In August 1941, Ekaterina married pilot Pavel Ignatenko, commander of the 4th squadron of the same regiment. Their relationship began before the war: Pavel fell in love with Katya, meeting her at a dance in the Kharkov House of Officers, when he first saw her not in uniform, but in a white dress.
The girl did not dare to accept his offer for a long time; being the only woman in the regiment, she was shy about her colleagues. And she continued to fly, not sparing herself at all, even when she realized that she was pregnant. The pilot’s sister Lyubov confessed: “Before the war, Katya prematurely gave birth to twins – sons. One was born dead, the other lived 12 hours. She was very much killed … Her letter from the front, dated July 6, 1941, was preserved: “I fly with a portrait of little curly-haired Valentine and with the hairs of my son. It’s all in my medallion … ”. Valentine is the son of our sister, Sonya. And the hairs are the son of Katya and Pavel. “
The pilot wrote to her beloved in the first days of hostilities: “I know, Pasha, that the war will be a severe test for me, but I am confident in myself – I will endure, overcome any difficulties. I have never been afraid of them and am not afraid of them. My admission to the academy, you understand yourself, will have to be postponed for the time being until we completely defeat the enemy. Your Katyusha. “
Being a virtuoso pilot, Catherine often led groups of bombers. In July 1941, as a result of a skillful and decisive raid led by E. Zelenko, 45 Nazi tanks and 20 vehicles with infantry were destroyed.
Often it was necessary to fly in extremely difficult conditions, to navigate the situation under the strongest enemy fire. This is how Colonel B. Jansen described one of Ekaterina Zelenko’s flights in his report: “In the area of Bykovo station in August 1941, leading a group of planes to bomb a concentration of enemy troops, came under heavy enemy artillery fire. Despite this, Comrade Zelenko fulfilled the task perfectly, destroying a battalion of German infantry without losing a single of her aircraft. “
“Eh, Sonya, how everything has changed! – Katya wrote to her sister in the first month of the war, – What plans were! How good it was to live! And now – the war … And I was going to cook jam in summer camps, there are a lot of berries, especially strawberries … I am writing a letter under the wing of an airplane. I’m about to fly on a mission. Don’t worry about me. “
E. Zelenko was sent on the most difficult missions, repeatedly flew to bomb enemy targets at night. In total, she managed to make 40 sorties and take part in 12 air battles.
Catherine’s last flight took place on September 12, 1941. On that cloudy day, she ascended into the sky three times: first, she made two reconnaissance flights, as a result of which her plane was damaged. And then – she begged the plane from the deputy commander of the regiment Anatoly Pushkin and flew for the third time together with the pilot-observer Lieutenant N. Pavlyk, paired with the crew of Captain Lebedev.
Returning from the mission, our planes came under attack of seven “Messers”. Soon the plane under the control of Lebedev was forced to stop the battle and leave, as it was shot down by the Nazis. Zelenko had to fight alone with seven opponents. She managed to destroy one enemy plane, and when the ammunition ran out, the pilot ordered N. Pavlyk to leave the plane, and rammed another “messer”. The wreckage of both aircraft fell to the ground near the village of Anastasevka, Sumy region.
For several days, fellow soldiers were waiting for the return of Ekaterina Zelenko’s plane. And only then they sent a report: “The fate of the pilot is unknown.” Captain Ignatenko continued looking for his wife for two more years, not believing in her death – he sent inquiries to hospitals, looked for eyewitnesses of the battle. In 1943, at the airfield in the rear, the pilot, by negligence, fell under the propeller of an aircraft and died.
The body of Ekaterina Zelenko was found by local residents and identified by the Komsomol card, order book and identity card. They did not have time to inform the regiment, since the next day after that memorable air battle the village was captured by the Germans. A resident of the village recalled: “It so happened that Katya seemed to be our compatriot, although she never walked through the village alive … She was buried by old Musiy Khomenko, we helped. They found a parachute by the road, and wrapped the remains in it. The surname was learned from the Komsomol ticket, it was taken and kept by our teacher Anastasia Panteleimonovna Marchenko … “
Subsequently, the Komsomol pilot ticket No. 7463250 – with brown blood stains, punctured by a shrapnel – was sent to the Orenburg Aviation School with the wish: “We are sending you Katya Zelenko’s ticket. Let this ticket, shot through and drenched in blood, help new cadets to better understand the price of heroism and losses during the war … “
After the war, the remains of E. Zelenko were transported to Kursk, where she spent her childhood.
In 1971, excavations were carried out at the site of the pilot’s death. At a depth of three meters, the search engines found fragments of her aircraft, and a few kilometers away they found the wreckage of the downed Messerschmitt-109 with traces of a ramming strike. At the place where the plane of E. Zelenko crashed, a bust of the pilot was installed.
And in Berestovka, from where she left on her last combat mission, a monument to the heroine was also erected. The streets in Kursk, Voronezh, Sumy, schools, and pioneer squads also bear the name of the brave pilot. Museums in memory of E. Zelenko were created in Anastasyevka and Kursk school number 10, where she studied.
Back in 1941, E. Zelenko was posthumously presented for the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, but then she was awarded only the Order of Lenin. Only decades later, on May 5, 1990, six months before the collapse of the USSR, by the decree of the President of the USSR, Ekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Astronomer of the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory T.M. Smirnova discovered a small planet between Mars and Jupiter, which she registered under the number 1900 and gave it the name “Katyusha” – in honor of the famous Soviet pilot Yekaterina Zelenko, the only woman who performed the air ram.
Photo by the author and from the Internet