Alexei Maressyev

Born: May 20, 1916
Spouse: Olga

  Last Wartime rank: Guards Major
Unit(s): N/A

• Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union
• Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 3rd class
• Order of Lenin x 2
• Order of the Red Banner
• Order of the October Revolution
• Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class
• Order of the Red Banner of Labour, twice
• Order of Friendship of Peoples
• Order of the Red Star
• Order of the Badge of Honour
• Medal "For Distinction in Guarding the State Border of the USSR"
• Medal "Veteran of Labour"

Victories: 15

Aircraft Flown:
Yak-1, La-5

What started out as routine mission for Lt. Alexei Maressyev on a cool April morning in 1942 turned into a life altering experience. Alexei and his Yak-1 were assigned to escort a group of bombers on a strike against the German occupied airfield at Staraya Russa, in the Ukraine. The mission started out well with the bomb run a success and Maressyev shooting down two Ju-52 transports that attempted to take off. Then the mission took a turn for the worst as the Bf 109 fighters pounced on Maressyev and his squadron mates.

   Alexei twisted his Yak wildly across the sky trying to evade the Luftwffe fighters but to no avail, his aircraft was repeatedly hit with cannon shells which destroyed his control surfaces. With his altitude too low, Alexei barely had time to see the forest rushing at him before he blacked out. Hours later Alexei awoke in pain and numb with cold, his aircraft had broken up when it hit the tree tops and pitched him out. Before he had time to realize this a bear forced it's way through the brush. Almost frozen with terror Alexei managed to reach his service revolver and fired at the posturing bear. Luck was with him once again this day and the bear dropped dead to the snow.

   At this point Alexei took in his situation and realized he was far behind enemy lines and that his legs were shattered. He resolved to not give up and spent the next 19 days filled with agony and searing cold as he crawled towards Russian lines. Once again his luck remained strong when he was found by a group of Partisans. It was three days before Maressyev could tell them who he was. The partisans quickly notified the nearest Soviet airfield and they sent a Po-2 ambulance aircraft for him. Two days later he was in a Military Hospital near Moscow, where the next stage of his ordeal was to begin.

   Maressyev's feet were so badly crushed, frost bitten, and gangrenous that they had to be amputated. Losing his will to live, Alexei sunk into despair and began wasting away despite the attentions of the hospitals medical staff. It took an Army Colonel, himself an amputee, to bring Alexei out of his funk. The colonel showed Alexei a magazine article about a WWI Russian pilot who continued to fly after losing a leg. This combined with the colonels cheerful encouragement restored hope to Alexei.

   Determined to fly once more, Alexei embarked on a regimen of physical therapy both official, and unofficial, that eventually allowed him to walk on his new artificial feet. After being transfered to a special aircrew convalescence sanatorium outside of Moscow, Alexei took up dancing to help his recovery and despite tremendous pain became a competent dancer. None to soon his time in the sanatorium was over and Alexei was ordered to appear before an Air Ministry board for reclassification. With the exception of his feet Maressyev passed the medical exam. When the question of his feet came up Alexei demonstrated his abilty to dance, sufficiently impressing that they certified him as fit for flying duties.

   At this point Alexei ran into a roadblock. Regulations prohibited any pilot with a physical disability to be return to flight duty, regardless of demonstrated ability. Time and time again Alexei was refused flight duty while being offered numerous desk jobs. Eventually Alexei decided to go straight to the top and brought his case directly to General Of The Air Force Alexander A. Novikov, a veteran air ace. The meeting was brief but Alexei sufficiently impressed the general that he left the meeting with an order returning him to flight status.

   With this block gone, Alexei was posted to a flight training school within a week. At first the training did not go well as the loss of his feet prevented him from "feeling" the aircraft. Alexei's resolve pushed through once again and he eventually adapted his body to the aircraft and eventually he overcame this problem and was eventually recertified on the Lavochkin La-5 fighter. After fifteen months in rehabilitation Maressyev returned to the front on July 1943.

   Guards Major Alexei Maressyev finished the war with 15 enemy aircraft destroyed. After the war Alexei took a post with the Air ministry department, retiring in 1949. He then became a lecturer for the Academy Of Social Sciences and toured the Soviet Union speaking to youth organizations. He married soon after the war to a woman named Olga, who had fought at the Battle of Stalingrad and earned the Order of the Red Star for gallantry. They have one son named Victor.