The Russian female pilots of World War II

Under cover of night and flying in plywood and canvas airplanes that were previously used for crop dusting, young Russian women in their late teens and early twenties took to the skies to fight the German invasion of 1941. They were dubbed the "Night Witches" and were deeply hated by the enemy. Any German pilot who shot down a "Witch" was awarded an Iron Cross.

With no parachutes, guns, radios or radar they flew with their faces freezing in open cockpits, navigating with only maps and compasses. They completed 8 to 18 missions a night usually sailing through a wall of enemy fire. In all they flew more than 30,000 missions over a four year period and dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs.

Nadya Popova who completed more than 852 missions recalls...
"Planes flew in formations of three. Two would go in as decoys to attract searchlights, then separate in opposite directions and twist wildly to avoid the anti-aircraft guns. The third would sneak to the target through the darkness. They would then switch places until each of the three had dropped the single bomb carried beneath each wing."

The pilots’ skill prompted the Germans to spread rumors that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to give us a feline’s perfect vision at night. Nadya declared, “This, of course, was nonsense.”

Women were initially banned from combat but when the russian Pilot Corps desperately needed bolstering Stalin deployed three regiments of female pilots.

The planes flown by the "Night Witches" were not as fast as the German planes, but maneuvered more easily and were difficult to shoot down. Nadya recalls those missions and comments that is was a miracle they didn't suffer more losses.  

She continued...

"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, Nadya, how did you do that?"

Ms. Popova passed away at the age of 91 last summer. She and the other brave women certainly deserve a place as...

Truly remarkable women in history!