07-13-2013, 02:49 PM #1
Stalin's 'night witch,' who flew 852 missions v. Nazis in wooden biplanes, dead at 91
The 'Night Witch' who carried out hundreds of bombing raids as part of Russia's elite all-women World War Two air squad. (Daily Mail)
The Nazis dubbed them the 'Night Witches', on account of the way they would cut their aircraft engines to silently swoop in before dropping their bombs.
The 'whooshing' noise they made as they passed overhead was said to resemble a witch's broomstick.
In 1941, as the Soviet Union struggled desperately to stop the German advance, Stalin ordered the formation of three all-women air force units.
While they were unable to inflict any strategically important damage, the psychological damage on German morale was said to be immense.
The Nazis viewed them as such a menace that an Iron Cross was promised to any Luftwaffe pilot who shot down a 'Nachthexen'.
Among the first volunteers was 19-year-old Nadezhda Popova, who would go on to become one of the most celebrated heroes of the Soviet Union.
Popova, who died this week at the age of 91, flew 852 missions against the Germans in rickety wooden biplanes and was shot down several times.
On one occasion after crash landing in the North Caucasus she joined a retreating Soviet column in which she met another downed pilot Semyon Kharlamov.
His head was heavily bandaged so only his eyes were showing, but he charmed her with jokes and after meeting up several times over the course of the war, they married.
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