Yekaterina Zelenko

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Yekaterina Zelenko
Portrait photograph of Yekaterina Zelenko in uniform
Native name
Russian: Екатерина Ивановна Зеленко
Ukrainian: Катерина Іванівна Зеленко
Born14 September 1916
Koroshchine, Volhynian Governorate, Russian Empire
Died12 September 1941(1941-09-12) (aged 24)
Sumy Oblast, Soviet Union (buried in Kursk)
Allegiance Soviet Union
Service/branch Soviet Air Force
Years of service1934 – 1941
RankSenior Lieutenant
Unit11th Light Bomber Regiment
135th Short-range Bomber Regiment
Battles/warsWinter War
World War II
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Yekaterina Ivanovna Zelenko (Russian: Екатерина Ивановна Зеленко, Ukrainian: Катерина Іванівна Зеленко; 14 September 1916 – 12 September 1941) was a Soviet Su-2 pilot who flew during the Winter War and World War II. She remains the only woman ever alleged to have performed an aerial ramming, though in recent years the historians have begun to doubt the credibility of such reports.

Early life[edit]

Zelenko was born in 1916 to a Ukrainian family in the village of Koroshchine, then part of the Volhynian Governorate of the Russian Empire. She completed seven grades of school in Kursk before moving with her mother to Voronezh, where she 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. In December 1934 she graduated with honors and was posted to Kharkiv on assignment to the 19th Light Bomber Brigade. From January 1936 until April 1938 she was stationed assigned to the 14th squadron of the Kharkov military district, after which she was assigned to the 4th Light Bomber Regiment, and from February to March 1940 she participated in the Winter War as a R-Zet pilot in the 11th Light Bomber Regiment. She flew eight missions during the conflict, for which she was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.[1]

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 aviation regiments in use of the Sukhoi Su-2.[2]

Zelenko in 1940-41

According to the official version, published in 1990, the events leading to her death went as follows: On 12 September 1941, Zelenko's Su-2 was attacked by seven Bf 109s. After shooting down two of them she ran out of ammunition so she launched a diving ramming attack which tore a Messerschmitt Bf 109 in two as the propeller of her plane hit the German aircraft's tail. According to some accounts the Su-2 exploded, while other reports state she maintained control of her plane until it was shot down by another Bf 109.[3][4]

Her husband Pavel Ignatenko died in an aviation accident in 1943.[4]

While it is undisputed that she flew 40 missions on the Su-2 and engaged in 12 aerial combats, many aviation historians from both Russia and the US strongly doubt or outright disagree with the claim that Zelenko carried out an aerial ramming, pointing out major discrepancies in the accounts describing her alleged ramming. Her first nomination for the title Hero of the Soviet Union did not mention an aerial ramming at all; claims about the location of the ramming itself, the location of her final resting place, and the evidence that was used to conclude that she conducted the ramming have been brought into question. For flying 40 missions she qualified for the title Hero of the Soviet Union, but because she went missing she was initially only awarded the Order of Lenin.[3][5]

Awards and recognition[edit]

2014 Russian postage stamp depicting the Zelenko's and an aerial ramming credited to her


Memorials and recognitions

  • The minor planet 1900 Katyusha was named in her honor.[6]
  • Her portrait appeared on a Soviet envelope in 1983 before she was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, and later on a 2014 postage stamp of the Russian Federation. (pictured)[7][8]
  • There are streets bearing her name as well as various monuments and statues in her honor throughout Russia and Ukraine.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Simonov & Chudinova 2017, p. 61.
  2. ^ Cottam 1998, p. 31.
  3. ^ a b Sakaida, Henry (2018-01-05). "Yekaterina Zelenko - Only Woman to Ram an Enemy Aircraft - Fact or Fiction?". A War to be Won. Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  4. ^ a b Cottam 1998, p. 33.
  5. ^ a b Simonov & Chudinova 2017, p. 63.
  6. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). "(1900) Katyusha". Dictionary of Minor Planet Names – (1900) Katyusha. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. p. 152. doi:10.1007/978-3-540-29925-7_1901. ISBN 978-3-540-29925-7.
  7. ^ "Зеленко Екатерина Ивановна на почтовом конверте 1983 года". Retrieved 2019-06-13.
  8. ^ "(stamp)". MARKA Publishing & Trading Centre. 2014.
  • Simonov, Andrey; Chudinova, Svetlana (2017). Женщины - Герои Советского Союза и России (in Russian). Moscow: Russian Knights Foundation, Museum of Technology V. Zadorozhny. ISBN 9785990960701. OCLC 1019634607.
  • Cottam, Kazimiera (1998). Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co. ISBN 1585101605. OCLC 228063546.