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Tue, Dec 31, 2013

Gone West: Nadezhda Popova

Russian Woman Piloted 'Night Witch' Converted Ag Planes During WWII

One of Russia's woman pilots who flew ag planes converted into bombers during WWII has passed away at the age of 91.

Nadezhda Popova flew airplanes called "Night Witches" by the Nazis. They were so dubbed because of the sound made by the plywood and canvas aircraft which the Germans likened to that of a witch's broomstick.

The "Night Witches" were crediting with dropping 23,000 tons of bombs on German troops invading Russia in some 30,000 missions, according to a report in the New York Times. The women were all volunteers who became legends in their time, but are now largely forgotten. They flew only at night with no parachutes, guns, radios, or radar, navigating with only maps and a compass. A hit from a tracer bullet would often cause the airplanes to burst into flames. The women flew as many as 18 missions each night, and a German pilot who shot one down was awarded an Iron Cross.

Popova had been one of the first to volunteer for the service. She is credited with flying 852 missions. She said in an interview for the book "Operation Typhoon: Hitler's March on Moscow, October 1941" by David Stahel that she was driven to join both by patriotism and revenge. Her brother had been killed in one of the first waves of German attacks on the Soviet Union in June of 1941.

Popova learned to fly at age 15 in a flying club. After earning her wings, she became an instructor.

The maximum speed of the modified Po-2 biplanes flown by the Night Witches was slower than the stall speed of the Messerschmitts being flown by the Germans, which reportedly made them difficult to target and shoot down. They were also very maneuverable. Still, Popova was shot down several times, but was never badly injured, she said.

After the war, Popova lived in Moscow and worked as a flight instructor. She was named a Hero of the Soviet Union and had been awarded the Gold Star, the Order of Lenin, and the Order of the Red Star.

(Po-2 Image used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Image Credit Russavia)

FMI: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Witches

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