Iakov Litinetskii was born in 1907 in the town of Litin, about 25 kilometers west of Vinnytsia, Ukraine. His father was a weighman at an estate mill. Iakov attended a kheider, and then went on to study at a Soviet school. In 1929, he volunteered for the Red Army. He began his training at an infantry school, but then, in 1931, he entered a pilot school in Orenburg (in the Urals, Russia), from which he graduated in 1933 as an Air Force navigator. By 1935, he was already a squadron navigator, holding the rank of captain. On the eve of the Soviet-German war, he was serving as the navigator of the 241st Aviation Division.
The division first engaged in combat on June 24, 1941, on the third day of the Soviet-German war, to the south of Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg, Russia). In those days, an enemy tank column was advancing northward, to Luga, 100 kilometers south of Leningrad. Litinetskii took the decision to attack the column from the rear; in his assessment, the division had managed to impede the enemy advance. However, by July 15 the 241st Division had lost all of its aircraft, and it was transferred to the rear, tasked with mastering the more advanced Petliakov-2 planes. Then, the study was unexpectedly interrupted, and the Division was transferred to the defense of Moscow, equipped with obsolete U-2 bombers.
In January 1942, Litinetskii was returned to the Leningrad front as the navigator of the 3rd Guards Division of Ground Attack Aircraft, which was equipped with Il-2 planes. With this division, Litinetskii made his way from the Leningrad area in 1942-43, through Ukraine and Poland in 1944, to Berlin in 1945. He personally made 38 sorties, and was wounded twice. Throughout the war, Litinetskii was awarded three military orders – the Red Star, the Red Banner, and the Patriotic War, 1st class – in addition to several medals.
In his postwar memoirs, Litinetskii regretted the fact that, in the autumn of 1944, his division had failed to aid the insurgents fighting in the Warsaw Uprising.
"From the sky, we saw the city bleed before our very eyes. But Moscow did not give the order" .1
Iakov's younger brother, Lieutenant Lev Litinetskii, was killed in the Soviet-Finnish war of 1939-40.
After the war, Colonel Iakov Litinetskii continued his service in the Soviet Army. He died in 2004.