Voices from Russia

Friday, 30 August 2013

Nadezhda Popova, World War II “Night Witch” Dies at 91

00 Dmitri Medvedev. Nadezhda Popova. Night Witch. 2009. 30.08.13

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The Wehrmacht called them “Night Witches” because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch‘s broomstick. The Russian women pilots of those planes, onetime-crop-dusters, took it as a compliment. In 30,000 missions over four years, they dumped 23,000 tons of bombs on the German invaders, ultimately helping to chase them back to Berlin. Any German pilot who downed a “witch” received an Iron Cross.

These young heroines, all volunteers, most in their teens and early 20s, became legends in World War II, but they’re largely forgotten now. Flying only in the dark, they had no parachutes, guns, radios, or radar, only maps and compasses. If tracer bullets hit them, their planes would burn like sheets of paper. Their uniforms were hand-me-downs from male pilots. Their faces froze in the open cockpits. Each night, the 40 or so two-woman crews flew eight or more missions… sometimes, as many as 18. Nadezhda Popova, one of the first volunteers… who herself flew 852 missions… said in an interview for David Stahel’s book Operation Typhoon: Hitler’s March on Moscow, October 1941, published this year, “Almost every time we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire”.

Ms Popova, who died at 91 on 8 July in Moscow, was inspired both by patriotism and by a desire for revenge. Her brother was killed shortly after the Germans swept into the USSR in June 1941; the Nazis commandeered their home as a Gestapo police station. In Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II (2007), Amy Goodpaster Strebe quotes Ms Popova as recalling the “smiling faces of the Nazi pilots” as they strafed crowds, gunning down fleeing women and children. However, Ms Popova, who rose to become deputy commander of what was formally known as the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, said she was mostly just doing a job that needed doing. She said in a 2010 interview with RIA-Novosti, “We bombed, we killed; it was all a part of war. We had an enemy in front of us, and we had to prove that we were stronger and more prepared”.

As the war began, Moscow barred women from combat, and Ms Popova was turned down when she first tried to enlist as a pilot. She told Albert Axell, the author of Russia’s Heroes: 1941-45 (2001). “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die”. In spite of this, on 8 October 1941, Stalin issued an order to deploy three regiments of female pilots, one of which became the Night Witches. Clearly, the ranks of Russian pilots needed bolstering; in addition, some pointed up, heroic women made good propaganda. The lobbying of Marina Raskova, who set several flying records, who became the first commander of the women’s units, helped greatly.

Nadezhda Vasilyevna Popova was born in Shabanovka in the RSFSR on 27 December 1921. The daughter of a railwayman, she grew up near Donetsk in the Ukraine, so, Ukrainian President Yanukovich announced her death. Growing up, Ms Popova told Ms Strebe, “I was a very lively, energetic, wild kind of person. I loved to tango, fox trot, but I was bored. I wanted something different”. At 15, Ms Popova joined a flying club, of which there were as many as 150 in the USSR. More than one-quarter of the pilots trained in the clubs were women. After graduating from pilot school, she became a flight instructor.

Her delight at her acceptance into the 588th Night Bomber Regiment gave way to steely seriousness after her first sortie, in which a Soviet plane was destroyed, killing two friends. She dropped her bombs on the dots of light below. She told Russian Life magazine in 2003, “I was ordered to fly another mission immediately. It was the best thing to keep me from thinking about it”. Ms Popova became adept at her unit’s tactics. Planes flew in formations of three. Two would go in as decoys to attract searchlights, and then separate in opposite directions and twist wildly to avoid the antiaircraft guns. The third would sneak to the target through the darkness. Then, they’d switch places until each of the three dropped the single bomb carried beneath each wing.

Ms Popova told Mr Axell that the pilots’ skill prompted the Germans to spread rumours that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to “give us a feline’s perfect vision at night. Of course, this was nonsense”. The Po-2 biplanes flown by the Night Witches had an advantage over the faster, deadlier German Messerschmitts… their maximum speed was lower than the German planes’ stall speed, making them hard to shoot down. The Po-2s were also exceptionally manoeuvrable. Still, Ms Popova was shot down several times, although she was never hurt badly.

Once, after being downed, she found herself in a horde of retreating troops and civilians. In the crowd was a wounded fighter pilot, Semyon Kharlamov, reading Quietly Flows the Don, Mikhail Sholokhov‘s epic Soviet novel. They struck up a conversation, and she read him some poetry. They eventually separated, but saw each other again several times during the war. At war’s end, they met at the Reichstag in Berlin and scribbled their names on its wall. They soon married. Mr Kharlamov died in 1990. Ms Popova, who lived in Moscow and worked as a flight instructor after World War II, is survived by her son, Aleksandr, a general in the Belarusian Air Force. Ms Popova was a Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation’s highest honour. She received the Gold Star {the author is confused here… the Gold Star is merely the medal for the title Hero of the Soviet Union: editor}, the Order of Lenin, and the Order of the Red Star. Ms Popova said in 2010, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl, up there in my little bomber. I ask myself, ‘Nadia, how did you do it?’”

14 July 2013

Douglas Martin

New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/world/europe/nadezhda-popova-ww-ii-night-witch-dies-at-91.html?ref=todayspaper&_r=3& 

Editor’s Note:

Let the above put all naysayers to shame. Women can fight in war as well as men can… history proves it. Ask the Germans attacked by the Night Witches and those harassed by female partisans and snipers… they’ll tell you the truth. As for the “Family Values” sorts and their closed-minded bloviations, the less said the better…

BMD

Saturday, 23 February 2013

23 February 2013. “Women in Combat?” We’ve “Been There” and “Done That”… End of Story

00 Marina Raskova. 23.02.13

Marina Raskova (1912-43), Hero of the Soviet Union, she commanded the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment… her ashes were buried in the Moscow Kremlin wall in a state funeral.

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The Second World War.

Mariya Dolina (1922-2010), Hero of the Soviet Union, she also served in the 125th Guards Bomber Regiment (which received the title “Borisov named after M M Raskova” after Marina Raskova died in an air crash). 

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Today, some rightwing nutters are trying to say that women are unfit to be at the front in combat positions. That’s utter baloney and horseshit. Women proved their mettle in World War II. Indeed, they more than proved it. I’ll bet you any amount of money that the loudmouthed cretins who oppose women at the front are the same people who voted for the warmongering draft-dodging coward Willard Romney. I’m just sayin’…

BMD

 

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