Yekaterina Zelenko

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Yekaterina Zelenko
Portrait photograph of Yekaterina Zelenko in uniform
Born 14 September 1916
Koroshchine, Volhynian Governorate, Russian Empire
Died 12 September 1941(1941-09-12) (aged 24)
Sumy Oblast, Soviet Union (buried in Kursk)
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Air Force
Years of service 1934 – 1941
Rank Senior Lieutenant
Unit 19th Light Bomber Brigade
3rd Squadron (11th Light Bomber Regiment of 8th Army)
135th Bomber Regiment (16th Mixed Flying Division of 6th Army)
Battles/wars Winter War, World War II
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union Order of Lenin.svg Order of Lenin.svg Order of Red Banner.svg

Yekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko (September 14, 1916 – September 12, 1941) was a Soviet Ukrainian war pilot. She remains the only woman ever known to have performed an aerial ramming after she rammed her Su-2 downwards into a German Messerschmitt Bf-109 on 12 September 1941 after being confronted by a group of seven Bf-109s while out of ammunition. She was not awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union until 1990 because the town where the remains of the two planes fell was taken over by the Axis before her death was reported to the military, leaving the ramming unknown to Soviet authorities until after the war.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Zelenko attended seven school classes in Kursk. With her mother's move to Voronezh, Yekaterina entered the Voronezh Secondary Flying School. In October 1933 she graduated from the Voronezh Flying Club and was sent to the 3rd Orenburg Military Flying Academy named after Kliment Voroshilov.[3] In December 1934 she graduated with honours and was posted to Kharkiv on assignment to the 19th Light Bomber Brigade. Before fighting in World War II Zelenko was the only female combat pilot in the Soviet-Finnish War.[4]

In World War II[edit]

On the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union Zelenko was taking part in the retraining of the leading personnel of seven flying regiments in use of the Sukhoi Su-2. Following the German invasion, Zelenko made forty flights (also at night) and participated in twelve air combats with enemy fighters.[5] On September 12, 1941, Zelenko's Su-2 was attacked by seven Bf-109s. After Zelenko ran out of ammunition, she launched a top-down air ramming which tore a Messerschmitt Bf-109 in two as the propeller of her plane hit the German aircraft's tail. The Su-2 she was piloting exploded, and Zelenko was pulled out of the cockpit. The air combat was observed by local residents who identified her body. After her death was posthumously nominated for the title Hero of the Soviet Union but was only awarded an Order of Lenin because she was considered missing in action and the military did not known of her ramming attack; the title Hero of the Soviet Union was rarely awarded to soldiers who went missing in action because they were considered "potential traitors." She was not made a Hero of the Soviet Union until Mikhail Gorbachev belatedly awarded her the title on 5 May 1990, after the full story of her death came to light the remnants of her plane and the one she rammed were recovered. Her husband Pavel Ignatenko died in aerial combat two years after her, in 1943.[6]

Awards and recognition[edit]

2014 Russian postage stamp featuring Zelenko's last stand and portrait


Memorials and recognitions

  • The minor planet 1900 Katyusha was named in her honor.[7]
  • Her portrait appeared on a Soviet envelope in 1983 before she was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, as well as on a 2014 postage stamp of the Russian Federation.[8][9]
  • There are streets bearing her name as well as various monuments and statues in her honor throughout Russia and Ukraine.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sukhoi Company (JSC)". Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  2. ^ Rytov, A.G. "Rytsari pyatogo okeana" (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  3. ^ See details on school at
  4. ^ "Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal, №5 2005, p715" (PDF) (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  5. ^ "Yekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko" (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  6. ^ "Зеленко Екатерина Ивановна". Retrieved 2018-02-07. 
  7. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (1900) Katyusha. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 152. ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7. Retrieved 23 August 2016. 
  8. ^ филателии, - Персоналии в. "Художественные маркированные конверты, ХМК СССР, 1983 года". Retrieved 2018-02-07. 
  9. ^ "(stamp)". MARKA Publishing & Trading Centre. 2014. 
  10. ^ "Зеленко Екатерина Ивановна". Retrieved 2018-02-07.