1942 the Soviet Union formed three regiments of women combat
pilots who flew night combat missions of harassment bombing.
They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, that were otherwise
used as trainers, and which could only carry 2 bombs that
weighted less than a ton altogether. They were so successful
and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen"night
witches. (Some sources state that they were nicknamed "Night
Witches" because it was made up entirely of female pilots
and they flew their missions in the wooden Po-2's at night.)
Night Witches were the women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment.
All of the mechanics and bomb loaders of this regiment, as
in the 586th IAP and the 587th Bomber Regiment, were also
The 588th, like all night bomber regiments, usually practiced
harassment bombing. This consisted of going to the encampments,
rear area bases, supply depots, etc., where the enemy was
trying to rest from a day of heavy fighting to another, and
bombing them. The strategic importance of the targets was
seldom high, but the psychological effect of terror and insecurity
and constant restlessness in the Germans (and Rumanians, Italians,
Finns...) was very effective.
Harassment night bombing was very difficult to do, considering
the low performance of the Po-2 biplanes (their top speed
was 94 mph/150 kph, less even than most World War I fighters!)
and how vulnerable that made them to enemy night fighters.
But the Night Witches learned their trade well. The Po-2 was
very slow, but it was also very maneuverable. When a German
Me-109 tried to intencept it, the Russian plane could turn
violently and nimbly at much less than the 109's minimum speed
(stall speed), requiring that the German make a wide circle
to come in for another pass. Then he was again met with the
same evasive tactic, time after time. Many pilots got to nearly
earth-level, flying low enough to be hidden behind hedgerows!
The German fighter could only try again and again until he
got frustrated and just left the Po-2 alone. No wonder, German
pilots were promised an Iron Cross for shooting down a Po-2.
of the painting :three girls are preparing their mission
: Serafima Amosova (middle), Katya
Ryabova (on the right). On the fuselage, the sentence "Za
rodinou" in cyrillic letters means "For the nation"
NIGHT WITCHES'S TACTIC
Witches would fly to a certain distance of the enemy encapments
that were to be the target, and cut their engine. They would
then glide silently, silently... When the Fascists started
to hear the whistle of the wind against the Po-2's wing bracing
wires, they realized in panic that it was too late. The Night
Witches would sneak up on them and release their bombs, then
restart their engines and fly away home.
Po-2 would pass often undetected by the night fighters' radar,
because of the mildly radar absorbing nature of the canvas
surfaces, and the fact that mostly they flew near the ground.
German planes equipped with infrared seekers would not see
the little heat generated by the small, 110 horsepower engine.
Searchlights, however, were another story. The Germans at
Stalingrad developed what the Russians called a "flak
circus". They would bring out the flak guns that had
been hidden during the day, and lay them in concentric circles
around probable targets, and the same with the searchlights.
Katya Ryabova tient par la taille son amie Nadya Popova. Une
nuit, ces deux filles bombardèrent
les allemands 18 fois !
crossing the perimeter in pairs in the straight line flight
path typical of untrained but determined Russian flyers were
usually ripped to pieces by the Flak 37 guns. The 588th, however,
developed another tactic. They flew in formations of three.
Two would go in first, attract the attention of the searchlights,
and when all of them pointed to them in the sky, separate
suddenly in opposite directions and maneuver wildly to try
to shake them off. The German searchlight operators would
follow them, while the third bomber who was farther back snuck
in through the darkened path made by her 2 comrades and hit
the target unopposed. She would then get out, rejoin with
the other two, and they would switch places until all three
had delivered their payloads. It took nerves of steel to be
a decoy and willingly attract enemy fire, but as Nadya Popova
said: "It worked.".
devant son avion de secours
A MOVIE ABOUT THE NIGHT WITCHES STORY VERY SOON
Soviet women bomber pilots earned in total 23 Hero of the
Soviet Union medals and dozens of Orders of the Red Banner.
Two women bomber pilotsKatya Ryabova and Nadya Popovain
one night raided the Germans 18 times. The Po-2 pilots flew
more than 24,000 sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs.
Most of the women bomber pilots who survived the war in 1945
had racked up nearly 1,000 missions each. They had served
so exemplarily throughout the whole war that they participated
in the final onslauqht on Berlin...
A movie concerning their incredible story will be made very
soon with Sophie Marceau and Malcom Mac Dowell as main characters.
It will be on the screens at the end of 2002 - begining of