Night Witches

Just ran into this on the BBC R4 a rebroadcast
Lucy Ash tells the extraordinary but little-known tale of Russia's three all-female regiments that flew more than 30,000 missions on the Eastern Front during Second World War. At home they were celebrated as Stalin's Falcons, but terrified German troops called them the Night Witches.

Lucy travels to Moscow and Rostov-on-Don to meet a number of these formidable women, who are now grandmothers in their 80s and 90s. She discovers that their bravery has inspired aerobatic champions, comic book artists and even a Dutch heavy metal band.

There's some video here and some pictures accompanied by the Red Army Choir belting out cracking propaganda.
is this something to do with international wimin's day?
I heard part of that programme live and it was fascinating .... I think one of the surviving pilots said she flew up to six Ops a night and the name " Night Witches " was given to them by German troops because of the Pilots' tactic of throttling back their engine , thus reducing noise , and almost gliding into their bombing run .


Book Reviewer
Funnily enough, I had read about the Night Witches in Sven Hassel years ago and thought it had to be rubbish, but then to my astonishment, my own research turned up an incident in which the Royal Ulster Rifles were bombed in this manner.

In Pyongyang, winter, 1950, the RUR were the UN rearguard, pulling back over the city bridges before they were blown, when they were silently bombed from above. The North Koreans had borrowed the technique of taking a biplane, cutting the engine, gliding invisibly over enemy lines and dropping bombs out of the cockpit.
I met one of them once in Moscow. I was curious as to how they were recruited. She said she was in a women's volleyball team, and one day someone said "Right, you're volunteered for aircrew training."
Not one of the Night Witches - Lydia Litviak was arguably the leading Soviet female fighter pilot. At least 12 victories IIRC. Learnt to fly pre-war aged 15. Served with a largely male Guards fighter regiment, and became a tad pathological in her hunting after the death of the ace to whom she was wingman and the object of her affections.

Failed to return from a sortie aged 21; was put up for a posthumous Hero of the Soviet Union (highest Soviet gallantry award but perhaps closer to a DSO than a VC) but refused because the Stalinist apparatchiks thought she might have defected to the Nazis. Her female mechanic, one SSgt Pasportnikova, was not happy, and spent decades after the war doggedly searching possible crash sites. Eventually found the probable wreck and a grave dug by local villagers, and Gorbachev finally awarded Litviak the HSU in 1990.

Litviak's story alone was remarkable, but it is Pasportnikova's dedication for nearly forty years that has always struck me as truly heroic.

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