The tactics used in the famous air battle called “7 against 25” influenced Lily’s approach to flying. She liked to attack the enemy head-on without care for any danger to herself, and even when her aircraft was damaged, she stayed in the fight. At the time of the battle, Lily was still in training with the women’s regiment, but 10 months later, she would join the men who’d fought in it.
The battle was a turning point in the war, giving hope to those at home and encouragement to other pilots. In the first air victory against the Germans, seven Soviet fighter pilots met and overcame twenty-five German bombers and fighters. Boris Eremin led the group of seven and lived to old age. He described the battle in his memoir and in interviews years later. But I decided to post an excerpt of the report he gave right after the battle because of its sense of immediacy and as an example of the kind of tone that was characteristic of the time.
From The Red Star, March 12, 1942, Boris Eremin reporting by phone from the Southwestern Front:
“It was March 9, exactly 1300 hours. Lieutenant Scotney gave me the signal. I looked around. Approximately at a distance of 400-500 meters from us, at a height of two kilometers, the course of 150-160 °, were six Junkers-87, a Ju-88 and eighteen Messerschmitt-109.
“At first we were surprised by the number of enemy fighters. Have the Germans become so rich so that they could cover bombers with such a large force? No, it’s not that. Saving their air assets, the enemy uses fighters to attack ground targets. Instantly I came to a decision: to put the enemy on notice and attack it first to prevent it from attacking our infantry.
“The decision was not caused by the fervor of pilots in combat. We proceeded from sober calculation, taking full account of the tactics of the German Air Force and the features of these aircraft. German Messerschmitt-109 are protected by armor behind and partly from above. So, it is best to attack the enemy head-on. This method of frontal impact, the ram, with a direct hit from our aircraft’s armaments was well know to the pilots of our squadron, and I was sure that, despite the numerical superiority of the enemy, they will perform the task with honor. In addition, I had another goal – to prevent the German pilots any opportunity to modify their formation for air combat.
“7 to 25 – it was audacious, but we had the advantage of surprise. Seconds, during which the enemy would be stunned by the suddenness of the attack, might decide the success of the battle in our favor. So, we decided to attack the superior strength of our enemy and break into his formation. But where? I led the squadron into the bombers to paralyze the actions of enemy fighters for at least a few seconds. At that point, they won’t immediately know who is friend and who is foe, giving us time.
“Our squadron engaged the bombers. Lieutenant Sedov, aiming at one enemy ship, flew toward the nose and seemed about to crash into it. But at close range, he released one after the other six rounds of ammunition. With a direct hit, he knocked out a Junkers-87. The randomly tumbling enemy plane crashed into the ground. This immediately caused chaos among the bombers. They scattered at speed, turning back.
“Now the sky had cleared somewhat, but they still have 18, and we have 7 But we have not changed our decision, and we take on the fight. Without changing course, I went to meet one Messerschmitt. On the first attack, I ignited the enemy plane, and it fell to the ground like a flaming torch. Almost simultaneously Lieutenant Salomatin set another Messerschmitt alight… Lieutenant Martynov shot down a third, and the fourth was shot down by Sergeant Korol. So as a result, after 15 minutes of battle, our squadron destroyed one enemy bomber and four fighters.
“The air battle began at a height of two thousand meters and ended at an altitude of 50 meters. The surviving German planes fled to the west. In a dogfight a pilot requires not only courage and irrevocable determination in whatever it takes to destroy enemy aircraft, but also a constant concern for his fellow pilots, concerted action with them, constant mutual assistance.
“In the battle, there was a moment when my machine was attacked by two German fighters. Scotney hastened to my aid. He went over to the enemy below and in turn attacked them. Both Messerschmitts shied away from a fight…While Lieutenant Scotney was fighting with one Messerschmitt, Captain Zapryagaev immediately joined the battle and drew the enemy fire…
“Scotney found himself in a difficult position. The coolant in his engine was damaged by shrapnel. According to generally accepted procedure, he needed to withdraw, but he remained in the air and continued to fight. It was the right decision! The extra 2-3 minutes that the aircraft can operate against the enemy, are very valuable…
“The German fighters were farther from their airfields than we were. They couldn’t sustain a long fight, lacking the fuel. Hence, the extra minute remaining in the battle was of great importance…We knew the habits of the German pilots. They are not brave, but insidious. They always walk away from the numerically smaller opponent who behaves aggressively, but immediately pounce on one that’s isolated and trying to get out of the fight…
“Coming at you! – this should be the decision of a fighter pilot, no matter what the number of enemy aircraft in front of him. The Soviet fighter is a dangerous weapon…Germans… are afraid of them. And to deal with an enemy who’s afraid of you is much easier. The pilot just needs self-confidence in his armaments and in his aircraft.
“These qualities are inherent to Soviet soldiers who bravely and heroically defend his homeland…7 won against 25, This assures us that our pilots and our aircraft are better than the Germans’. This proves that in any air battle, you need to fight to impose your will on the enemy, do not wait for him to attack, be the first to attack and destroy him.”