night witches … nachthexennight witches soviet union



It seemed appropriate to begin Halloween week by talking about witches … in this case … night witches.




The Night Witches <russian Ночные ведьмы> was what the Germans in World War II  called the female military pilots of the soviet union. It was a reference made with respect.


These female pilots used to fly in the dead of night in freezing air in an aircraft so frail <they were old wooden and canvas biplanes> they belonged in world war 1.

The nickname began because the swishing glide of the biplanes sounded to the Germans like a witch’s broomstick passing … so the pilots of these planes became … Nachthexen or Night Witches.




I thought about this not just because of Halloween but also one of the most famous night witches passed away and I just saw a documentary of the world war 2 battle of Kursk <in which the night witches played a significant role>.


About the pilot.

Nadezhda Popova  or Nadia Popova was 91 when she passed away <which means she was maybe 20 when she first participated in world war 2>.


What was written about her:


She made 852 sorties in the second world war as a pilot in the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, later named the 46th Guards in honor of its courage.

Once, over Poland in 1944, she made 18 sorties in a single night. The aircraft were old two-seater biplanes, PO-2s, originally training planes, made of canvas and plywood with open cockpits. When it rained, water ran over the instruments; when the planes were shot at, shrapnel tore the wings to shreds. There was no radio and, to save weight, she never wore a parachute. If you were hit, that was it.

She sometimes flew so low she could hear the cheers of Russian soldiers … and found 42 bullet holes in her plane after one such flight.


About the planes and what they did:


The night witches flew in wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in all of aviation history. The planes could carry only two bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, the German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise to reveal their location. Because of the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight the pilots carried no parachutes

The Witches would fly to a certain distance of the enemy encapments that were to be the target, and cut their engine. They would then glide silently, silently… When the Fascists started to hear the whistle of the wind against the Po-2’s wing bracing wires, they realized in panic that it was too late. The night witches katyanadia02Night Witches would sneak up on them and release their bombs, then restart their engines and fly away home.


The Po-2 would pass often undetected by the night fighters’ radar, because of the mildly radar absorbing nature of the canvas surfaces, and the fact that mostly they flew near the ground. German planes equipped with infrared seekers would not see the little heat generated by the small, 110 horsepower engine.


Searchlights, however, were another story. The Germans at Stalingrad developed what the Russians called a “flak circus”. They would bring out the flak guns that had been hidden during the day, and lay them in concentric circles around probable targets, and the same with the searchlights.


Po-2s crossing the perimeter in pairs in the straight line flight path typical of untrained but determined Russian flyers were usually ripped to pieces by the Flak 37 guns. The 588th, however, developed another tactic. They flew in formations of three. Two would go in first, attract the attention of the searchlights, and when all of them pointed to them in the sky, separate suddenly in opposite directions and maneuver wildly to try to shake them off. The German searchlight operators would follow them, while the third bomber who was farther back snuck in through the darkened path made by her 2 comrades and hit the target unopposed. She would then get out, rejoin with the other two, and they would switch places until all three had delivered their payloads.



There is no real reason why I am posting this other than I find this stuff interesting.


There are so many little known side stories in the bigger stories of Life.



Maybe what hit me the most is when I read this:


It took nerves of steel to be a decoy and willingly attract enemy fire, but as Nadya Popova said: “It worked.”


How awesome is that response? <awesome>


I am continuously amazed by what people do in times when they have to do whatever needs to be done … and they simply do it because … well … ‘it worked.’


Written by Bruce