“Almost every time we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire,” Nadezhda Popova stated. She became the WW 2 deputy commander of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, flying 852 missions bombing Nazi invaders.
The sorties were extremely dangerous but the Night Witches, as the Nazis called them, piloting the crop-duster biplanes were able to out manoeuvre the faster German Messerschmitts planes.
The all-female squad, without parachute, guns, or radios would fly in a formation of three. Two would act as decoys drawing enemy fire while the third would hit the target in the darkness. They would do this repeatedly, switching places until all their bombs were dropped – one under each wing. It was uncomfortably cold work in freezing temperatures on their plywood and canvas biplanes in second-hand uniforms from their male counterparts.
Volunteering early for the Soviet aviation program Popova did so to avenge the killing of her brother by the Nazis. She described herself as “a very lively, energetic, wild kind of person” who, as a teenager joined a flying club. She was trained as a pilot and later, became an instructor. Then in 1941 she was chosen to be in the women’s bombardier unit and although downed by enemy fire several times, she was never seriously injured.
Her WW 2 contributions were well recognised by the Soviet government. She was named Hero of the Soviet Union and given the Gold Star, Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Star.
For more information about the Soviet Union’s response to Germany’s Operation Barbarossa click here.