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Alexey Maresyev, the most well known soviet pilot of WW2

Updated on January 25, 2013
a public source
a public source

Soviet aviation in WW2

Do you know what was the favorite book of any boy in the USSR about the WW2? It was a book named: “The story about a real man” by Boris Polevoy.

All boys want to be heroes and this book is exactly about the man who became a hero. The book is about a Soviet pilot who was shot by Nazi, was wounded and lost both his legs. At the same time his will to fly and to fight Nazis was so strong that he returned in the aviation and fought till the end of the war.


Beginning of war

Alexey Maresyev was born in 1916 in a poor family with many children. Alas his father died when he was small and mother was to grow up all children alone. His mother was a person with a strong will and made boys not to beg but to work hard since childhood.

Maresyev always dreamed to be a pilot and entered a school of pilots in 1937. His first flight was in 1940 during study in a military school. In 1941 the War began in the Soviet Union and Meresyev was sent to fight with enemy pilots. Pretty soon he was proud to say that he hit 4 enemy airplanes.

In April 1942 his plane was hit. Maresyev was going to land it on the swamp in a forest but the engine was almost dead and the plane crashed among trees. Maresyev was still alive but his legs were seriously wounded. By his own words just a strong desire to live helped him to survive. He crawled in the forest through the snow 18 days before he could reach some village and was saved by local boys. People in a village did what they actually were able to do, but they were not doctors and frozen legs were inflamed.

Maresyev was transported to a hospital but it was too late and gangrene left no choice to doctors. Both of his legs were amputated.

The young man was absolutely depressed but he was a person with an iron will. He decided that he will come back to aviation. This decision was not made because he wanted to become famous or to become an idol for the others. He was raised in a poor but noble family and he could not imagine himself to be a burden for the country at the time of war. Besides he loved to fly. The amputation (in that time) meant a total forbidding of flying. It was a great loss for a person who could not imagine his life without flights.

Fight with nazi aviation

A strong desire to return to aviation, hard will and stubbornness made his wish come true. He trained for almost a year till he managed to convince the doctors in his abilities not just to walk but to fly. In 1943 he returned back to aviation. The man without legs was considered to be “apt to military service”. That was the biggest victory of Maresyev and his biggest glory.

To understand all importance of his return to aviation we should remember that it was 1943. Specialists in a prosthesis were not at nowadays level. Yes we have Paralympics games and nowadays people with limited physical abilities have much more possibility to live a full life. But it is all now. That time his return to the aviation was an extraordinary event. The country was filled with man and women crippled by war. Many of them became beggars trying to survive. He had already survived but instead of a homely life somewhere far from the front he chose another option – to fight. He had to fight against pain, to fight with the opinion of others and to fight with stubborn commanders who were afraid to send him back to the front.

Maresyev hit 7 more Nazi planes after his return back to the front. He also participated in the epic battle near Kursk. The glory of a pilot without legs was spreading fast all over the army and became an extraordinary source of propaganda.

Maresyev left the aviation in 1946. His biggest military award was a Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. He went to work in a pilot school to train young pilots. His last flight was in 50th. Alexey Maresyev was also known in the USSR by his later political activity. He defended a scientific degree in history and never considered himself to be a person with limited abilities. The only dream he could not fulfil was to fly Aircobra.

Alexey Maresyev died in 2001 at the age of 84.

P.S. Maresyev was not the only person with amputated legs. In the Soviet Army there were a dozen of other people who returned back to the front after amputation. In the English army there was Douglas Bader a pilot of “Spitfire”. The German army had also a pilot without one leg- Hans Ulrich Rudel.


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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      On the contrary I never heard of Douglas Bader till I strarted to collect material about Maresyev. Thank you for reading!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 5 years ago from australia

      Hi Pavlo - another astounding person and story you have given us. .I wasn't aware of Maresyev - what a deserving tribute to him. I was aware of Douglas Bader and didn't realise about others in a similar situation - thank you again -

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I am glad you liked it :) Thank you for a comment!

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      For a moment I thought I had heard of this man (and I may have at some point because I am surrounded by aviation enthusiasts, but as they point out, I am always forgetting things), but it turned out to be Douglas Bader whose story I heard just the other day.

      I guess it says something about how valuable a pilot's experience (and fighting spirit) was, if it mattered more than his legs!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you for a comment. Glad it was intereting for you!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Pavlov, I always look forward to your hubs. This is another story about someone I never heard of-- and these people need to have their stories spread around, even though they are well-known in their own country. For some reason, I didn't get an email notice when you published this, so I will have to be more observant in future in HubPages.