Obit for WW2 Soviet Woman Bomber Piltot

Wordsmith

LE
Book Reviewer
#1
This was in the Telegraph - I found it interesting.

Nadezhda Popova - Telegraph

Nadezhda Popova, who has died aged 91, was a member of an elite corps of Soviet women — known as the “Night Witches” — who fought as bomber pilots in the air war against Germany, and the only one to win three Orders of the Patriotic War for bravery.

Nadezhda Popova, then aged 19, was one of the first to join the ... 588th Night Bomber Regiment (later renamed the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment).

The 588th was not well equipped. Wearing hand-me-down uniforms from male pilots, the women flew 1920s-vintage Polikarpov PO-2 two-seater biplanes, which consisted of fabric strung over a plywood frame, and lacked all but the most rudimentary instruments.

There was no radio; navigation was done with a stopwatch and a map. The planes carried no guns, no parachutes and had only enough weight allowance to take two bombs, forcing the pilots to make multiple sorties (Nadezhda Popova once flew 18 in a single night), returning to base each time to collect more bombs, which were released with a wire cable jury-rigged to the wings.

Because the PO-2s were flimsy and flew near the ground, they could often pass undetected by radar. The pilots’ tactic was to fly to within a certain distance of the target, and cut their engines. They would then glide in silently, release their bombs, then restart their engines and fly home. The Germans called them the “Nachthexen” (the Night Witches) due to the whooshing sound they made — “like a witch’s broomstick in the night’’ — as they flew past.
Another little known facet of the Second world War.

Wordsmith
 
#3
18 sorties in one night!!! Given that apart from the 'being shot at' bit, take off and landing are the most dangerous phases of flight that is absolutely remarkable.
 
#4
I met one of them once in Moscow. When I asked how she ended up doing that in the war, she said she was in a group of gymnasts, and one day soon after the war started (for them) a recruiter came in and said they were all going to do aircrew training.
Bizarre! Nice old dear, tough as boots.
 
#5
To escape the German ground defences, the 588th flew in formations of three. Two would go in as decoys to attract the attention of the searchlights, then separate in opposite directions and twist and turn wildly to avoid the flak guns. As the searchlights scrambled to follow them, the third bomber would sneak in along the darkened path made by her two comrades and hit the target unopposed. She would then get out and rejoin the other two; they would then switch places until all three had delivered their payloads. It took nerves of steel to be a decoy, but as Nadezhda Popova recalled: “It worked.”
It was the cold that she recalled more than anything else: “When the wind was strong it would toss the plane. In winter when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying.” There was no time for fear: “You had to focus on the target and think how you could hit it. There was no time to give way to emotions... Those who gave in were gunned down and they were burned alive in their craft as they had no parachutes.”
She recalled one particularly gruelling mission when, after bombing an ammunition dump, she found herself caught in the searchlights: “I manoeuvred and suddenly I saw them switch to another plane that flew after me. Enemy planes took off and shot it down, it caught fire and fell. That was one. Then I turned my head and saw a second plane go down in flames and then a third one lit up the sky like a falling torch. By the time I got back, four of our planes had perished with eight girls in them burned alive ... What a nightmare, poor girls, my friends, only yesterday we had slept in the bunks together.”
Nadezhda Popova, who was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, was one of the best of the 588th pilots — and one of the luckiest. She flew 852 missions.
Truly NAILS
 

mercurydancer

LE
Book Reviewer
#6
852 missions? With unreliable aircraft and negligible survival if something went wrong? Brave beyond any imaginings.

Russia has lost a heroine. I am in Moscow next week, and I shall make remembrance for her.
 
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