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Nadezhda Popova "Night Witch" Dies at 91
July 15, 2013 10:40 AM   Subscribe

The Nazis called them “Night Witches” because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick. Ms. Popova was a member of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces during WWII. Composed entirely of women, most in their teens and early 20's, the Night Witches flew over 23,000 missions with only 40 2-woman crews. Popova herself flew over 850 missions and was shot down several times.
posted by bluejayway (69 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by Gelatin at 10:41 AM on July 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


"Nachthexen" would be an awesome name for a riot grrl or all-female metal band.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:47 AM on July 15, 2013 [18 favorites]


.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2013


Wow. I did no know about this and I love such hidden gems of knowledge. Thanks for posting!
posted by mightshould at 10:50 AM on July 15, 2013


From the Wikipedia article: A stealth technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise to reveal their location.

I think that a ! is perhaps more fitting than a . here, so....

!
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:51 AM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


!
posted by Renoroc at 10:52 AM on July 15, 2013


I too was pleased to see this for the first time. She (and her fellow night witches) definitely need to be badass of the week sometime.

I am also glad to see this get some publicity because in the United States, at least, the role the Soviet Union played in defeating the Nazis is often downplayed or ignored all together. Thanks for reminding us that they were on our side during that conflict.
posted by TedW at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I always ask people who say women can't have combat jobs, who holds the all time record for aircraft shot down and who holds the woman's sniper record.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:53 AM on July 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2013



Ovaries of solid brass, I'll tell you what.

I was familiar with the night witches, being somewhat fascinated with WWII aviation for most of my life. What those women did, in those very rudimentary airplanes, is nothing short of extraordinary.

! indeed.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:56 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


.
posted by Smart Dalek at 11:02 AM on July 15, 2013


!
posted by atlatl at 11:03 AM on July 15, 2013


*
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:04 AM on July 15, 2013


Garth Ennis' generally terrific WWII and Cold War realistic historical fiction comic series, Battlefields, has a volume called The Night Witches , which is the first part of the story of fictional Soviet female pilot Anna Kharkova
posted by Bwithh at 11:04 AM on July 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Just when I thought there were no more movies to be made of World War II I'd want to see.

Flying only in the dark, they had no parachutes, guns, radios or radar, only maps and compasses. If hit by tracer bullets, their planes would burn like sheets of paper.

and later


No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die,” she told Albert Axell, the author of “Russia’s Heroes: 1941-45” (2001).


! almost doesn't even cover it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:05 AM on July 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


My hat is off to anyone who blew up Nazis, but I was sorry to read:

The pilots’ skill prompted the Germans to spread rumors that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to “give us a feline’s perfect vision at night,” Ms. Popova told Mr. Axell. “This, of course, was nonsense.”

...because that would have been awesomee!
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:05 AM on July 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


I read her obit this morning and it gave me the chills in a good way. Serious badass.
posted by ChuckRamone at 11:06 AM on July 15, 2013


--*--

I think you mean:

==*==
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:12 AM on July 15, 2013 [21 favorites]


!
posted by rosary at 11:14 AM on July 15, 2013


Thanks for posting this - this is absolutely incredible and new to me. What an amazing group of women.

And this is another nice piece to pull out when people start the "But the womenz don't fight in wars!!!1!1" bullshit.
posted by medusa at 11:14 AM on July 15, 2013


.
posted by jquinby at 11:17 AM on July 15, 2013


rumors that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to “give us a feline’s perfect vision at night,”

CAT WOMEN OF THE VVS.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:20 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


!

The greatest generation. Very cool post, thanks for making me aware of this.
posted by Daddy-O at 11:25 AM on July 15, 2013


School aged women also manned the anti-aircraft guns at Stalingrad, I think. They took heavy losses.
posted by thelonius at 11:26 AM on July 15, 2013


"How did I do it?" Such bravery, she sounds like a hell of a lady.

!
posted by arcticseal at 11:31 AM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would have thought they were called "night witches" because they were women. Or did people really associate a witch's broomstick with a specific kind of sound at the time?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:39 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]



Just when I thought there were no more movies to be made of World War II I'd want to see.


This! This is one of the most exciting stories I've read in a long time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:41 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


You beat me to it! I especially loved this speech excerpt from a vetern Night Witch:

"We slept in anything we could find—holes in the ground, tents, caves—but the Germans had to have their barracks, you know. They are very precise. So their barracks were built, all in a neat row, and we would come at night, after they were asleep, and bomb them. Of course, they would have to run out into the night in their underwear, and they were probably saying,—Oh, those night witches!' Or maybe they called us something worse. We, of course, would have preferred to have been called 'night beauties,' but, whichever, we did our job."
posted by mlo at 11:45 AM on July 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


rumors that the Russian women were given special injections and pills to “give us a feline’s perfect vision at night,”

It wasn't the Germans who were spreading that rumor. The British told a similar tale, that their pilots were fed a special diet of carrots to give them superhuman vision... some airmen had turned orange from all of the carotene! The program was so successful, they had almost perfect night vision!

It was all bunkum to cover a new radar system and that they had cracked enigma, to demoralize the enemy and persuade the Germans to waste money, manpower and time they didn't have in replicating the results. So it was on the Eastern Front as well... the Allies couldn't possibly have superior intelligence and battle doctrine, so it must be magic potions.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:58 AM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interview with Brock-Beltsova Galina Pavlovna

- When taking off, did you lift the plane together?

- No. There were some weaker pilots. We had one, Tamara Maslova, she was very feminine, would always fly in heels, they would sometimes get help with lifting the tail, but I never helped on our own take-offs. My pilot was strong, athletic, Tosya Spicyna,a very pretty and interesting woman. Before the war, she was a flight instructor in a flight club, she prepared men for flying. Then she signed up for service.

posted by Comrade_robot at 12:00 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


...because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick.

A-HA! How do you know what a witch's broomstick sounds like, eh?
posted by resurrexit at 12:39 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


CAT WOMEN OF THE VVS.

Is my new band name.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:40 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


If they weigh the same as a duck...just saying'
posted by digitalprimate at 12:46 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick

Reminded? Really.

Paul Allen's museum has a PO-2, if you want to see one and are in the Seattle area.
posted by maxwelton at 12:51 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was all bunkum to cover a new radar system and that they had cracked enigma

That specific story was, but apparently over in the States the Navy was feeding sailors a modified form of retinol to increase night vision.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:59 PM on July 15, 2013


Molodets'! and spasibo.
posted by mogget at 1:04 PM on July 15, 2013


!
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2013


Bad ass.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:05 PM on July 15, 2013


It was all bunkum to cover a new radar system and that they had cracked enigma

Well yeah, but the Russians barely gave these women airplanes. I strongly doubt they had airborne radar and Enigma intercepts to explain away.
posted by Naberius at 1:11 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My pilot was strong, athletic, Tosya Spicyna,a very pretty and interesting woman.

Shit, even her name is badder-assed than Rommel's whole Afrika Corps.
posted by spitbull at 1:18 PM on July 15, 2013


Also, no more laughing at Pussy Riot.
posted by spitbull at 1:18 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cool, the Paul Allen museum has all sorts of neat stuff, like a Sturmovik
posted by KokuRyu at 1:26 PM on July 15, 2013


Awww... I just learned about the Nightwitches last week!

I'm hoping, as the memories of the cold war fade, schoolchildren in the US will get to learn about the cool stuff -other- countries did during WWII.
posted by _paegan_ at 1:32 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


__--*!*--__

MAKE!
THIS!
MOVIE!
STAT!
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:47 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was just reading about her again the other day. It's a story that never stops fascinating me, and yeah, there should definitely be a movie. There's even a love story.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2013


On the other side, Hitler had Hanna Reitsch
posted by Bwithh at 1:59 PM on July 15, 2013


From Max Welton's Paul Allen Museum link:
They inflicted little damage, but demoralized the Germans by keeping them awake night after night, and by the fact that they were women.
I'm not sure why, but that seems vaguely hilarious. "Ach! It's not the bombing and the lack of sleep, it's the fact that they're caused by women! I...I no longer believe in the fatherland! The Thousand Year Reich is a madman's idle dream!"
posted by yoink at 2:05 PM on July 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


!
posted by cadge at 2:08 PM on July 15, 2013



MAKE!
THIS!
MOVIE!
STAT!

They already have...
More than once.
I'm sure there's more, but those two are the first that come to mind.
posted by c13 at 2:09 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


That rocks. Particularly the feline night vision injection rumour bit, and also the actual fighty bit.

.
posted by colie at 2:20 PM on July 15, 2013


So I'm trying to visualize why the low maximum speed makes it difficult to hit them. Is the idea that when you are shooting at another plane, you fly behind them at the same speed so you can keep shooting indefinitely? And the germans would keep overshooting these?
posted by selfnoise at 2:38 PM on July 15, 2013


selfnoise: "So I'm trying to visualize why the low maximum speed makes it difficult to hit them. Is the idea that when you are shooting at another plane, you fly behind them at the same speed so you can keep shooting indefinitely? And the germans would keep overshooting these"

Yes, or from any angle. It's hard to chase something and keep it in your crosshairs for anything more than a moment when you have to move at a much higher speed than your target's.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:58 PM on July 15, 2013


.
I first heard about them on the Hardcore Histories podcast, and was amazed.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:36 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


selfnoise: So I'm trying to visualize why the low maximum speed makes it difficult to hit them.

What Joakim said about ground targeting. They could also fly much slower than the German fighter aircraft and were more maneuverable at lower speeds.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2013


And this is another nice piece to pull out when people start the "But the womenz don't fight in wars!!!1!1" bullshit.

I don't know if these is true or not, but I read somewhere that females (statistically speaking) have a higher 'g' tolerance, faster reaction times and better stamina making them superior fighter pilots, and their generally lighter weight and smaller size helps also.
posted by bartonlong at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2013


"Nachthexen" would be an awesome name for a riot grrl or all-female metal band.

I'm betting it'll show up as a Wesen species on Grimm.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


One crew from the 588th makes a special guest appearance in Primo Levi's really excellent Eastern Front Partisan War novel, If Not Now, When? And of course, this fascinating story also really demands to be interpreted in a decent movie.
posted by ovvl at 5:16 PM on July 15, 2013


Ironmouth: "who holds the woman's sniper record."

Is it a woman?
posted by pwnguin at 6:54 PM on July 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:12 PM on July 15, 2013


I am also glad to see this get some publicity because in the United States, at least, the role the Soviet Union played in defeating the Nazis is often downplayed or ignored all together. Thanks for reminding us that they were on our side during that conflict.

By which you mean, the Soviets defeated the Nazis?

I know that's an exaggeration but seriously, the scale of the Soviet-Nazi war makes the Western Front look like a skirmish. It was the largest land war in history by several measures, and it was horrific in a way most Westerners don't appreciate. It was utter misery on both sides.

I know nobody was actually disagreeing with that sentiment so I'll stop ranting now.

.
posted by dry white toast at 8:27 PM on July 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


They already have...
More than once.


I've seen enjoyed lower-tech special effects from the BBC. Now all I need is a subtitled Soviet version.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:06 PM on July 15, 2013



I know that's an exaggeration but seriously, the scale of the Soviet-Nazi war makes the Western Front look like a skirmish. It was the largest land war in history by several measures, and it was horrific in a way most Westerners don't appreciate. It was utter misery on both sides.


listen to this
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 9:40 PM on July 15, 2013


a true bad-ass because she didn't think about it, she did it. And the husband thing! Damn. I'd write the screenplay, if I thought I could do it justice. I can't.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 1:04 AM on July 16, 2013


We supplied Stalin with trucks, food, things like that, which helped him maximize his capacity for war production; he supplied the 20 million corpses.
posted by thelonius at 1:33 AM on July 16, 2013


Ironmouth: "who holds the woman's sniper record."

Is it a woman?


Lieutenant Lyudmila Pavlichenko, "Soviet sniper with 309 confirmed kills, making her the most successful woman sniper in history." "Pavlichenko had the option of becoming a nurse but refused: 'I joined the army when women were not yet accepted'. There she became one of 2,000 women snipers in the Red Army, of whom about 500 survived the war."

From Wikipedia on military snipers, the sniper with most kills was Finnish Lance Corporal Simo Häyhä, "being credited with killing up to 705", and the second in line is Francis Pegahmagabow, an Ojibwa (Native Canadian) sniper credited with 378 kills.

There are only a handful with more than 250 kills.
posted by fraula at 1:53 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Note that, as usual, the nazis coupied that idea for their nachtslaggruppen, which flew all kinds of obsolete planes like 1919 vintage Junkers passenger planes.

The North Koreans used similar tactics also, using Il-2 postwar biplanes, as you may have seen in MASH.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:13 AM on July 16, 2013


First learned about them in Spain Rodriguez' "Lily Litvak, the Rose of Stalingrad" in Zap Comix #11.
posted by Rash at 9:03 AM on July 16, 2013


It should also be a Kate Beaton comic.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:15 AM on July 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's also a comicbook series penned by Garth Ennis, the first of which is about the Night Witches.

I was in my twenties I learned that there were women who did more than drive, nurse, knit and tend the home fires during WWII. I knew about the Land Army and women in the French Resistance, but hell, there were women who actually parachuted off planes into enemy territory like Nancy Wake, women who were tortured and executed like Violette Szabo and Noor Inayat Khan. Women like Nadezhda Popova and her comrades. I was so thrilled when I discovered them and so, so angry that they were never featured in books or in big budget/popular WWII dramas and movies. Their stories are just as compelling, and it would make ALL the difference to young girls if everyone knew about these women, so nobody could ever argue that girls aren't physically capable or courageous enough to be on the front lines of combat.

MAKE!
THIS!
MOVIE!
STAT!
They already have...
More than once.
I'm sure there's more, but those two are the first that come to mind.


How are we to know about these movies? They're not going to appear on Netflix under "Gritty War Dramas" even though I've watched a few of those and a bunch o' Hitler documentaries. The movie on YT that you linked to doesn't even have subtitles. If we can get a British Anna Karenina, surely we can get a British Night Witches movie?

So, I want that. And Band of Sisters. NOW.
posted by peripathetic at 2:54 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


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