Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Night witches
November 6, 2009 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Night witches. "Russia's three all-female air regiments flew more than 30,000 missions along the Eastern Front in WWII. At home they were known as Stalin's Falcons, but terrified German troops called them the Night Witches."

Also: Adventures in Feministory: The Night Witches, more on The Night Witches and Soviet Women Pilots in the Great Patriotic War, plus some youtube footage: soviet airwomen in WW2 "Night witches".
posted by shetterly (32 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh. They flew the Po-2. The Wikipedia entry for the Il-2 claims that it is " the single most produced military aircraft design in all of aviation history as well as the third most produced aircraft in history behind the Cessna 172 and the Polikarpov Po-2," but it looks like the Po-2 wasn't entirely exempt from bellicose uses. Fascinating post.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:23 AM on November 6, 2009


Cool stuff. At a wedding rehearsal dinner I encountered the groom's Russian great-aunt who was a sniper in WW II. I did not complain when she cut in front of me in the buffet line.
posted by exogenous at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


There was an excellent BBC radio doc on the subject the other week... it's floating around the internet if you look hard enough.

Garth Ennis's Night Witches in his recent Battlfields series, as seen in the slidehow, is about one of the best things he's ever written.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:32 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The comic book writer, Garth Ennis, released a new series of WWII war stories called Battlefields and the inaugural arc was focused on the Night Witches. Not a bad run as far as war stories goes, but definitely deep in the vein of "No Angels Fly Over The Ostfront"
posted by bl1nk at 7:32 AM on November 6, 2009


jinx, fearfulsymmetry ... though I will say as a slight dissent, that I vastly prefer his next arc in the Battlefield series, Dear Billy. Though, that's less for any demerits against Night Witches, which was indeed a fine story, but more for all of the virtues of the latter.
posted by bl1nk at 7:34 AM on November 6, 2009


I just started reading a book of interviews with the survivors, A Dance With Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II and I can't believe that at first, they flew in wooden planes with no parachutes. That's insane.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Taking on fascism with rickety planes and no parachutes! I'm in love.

"Stalin's Falcons" would be an excellent name for a softball team.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:41 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I recently got volume 1 hardcover of Garth Ennis' Battlefields, which had Night Witches as the first story. Was illuminating as I had not really learned much about these women before. However, compared to the rest of Garth Ennis' war comics, I would rank it in the lower middle of the stack.. not something I'll ever re-read, nor something artful or special enough to want to keep on my bookshelf, despite the hardcover. Will be returning it for half the purchase price in trade.
posted by autodidact at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


They only had 40 two woman crews. While this is an intruiguing footnote to the war, it's not likely they had much of an impact.

However, I'm sure that all future history textbooks will devote a page to their exploits. I can't wait to what Tom Hanks does with the story. ("There's no crying at 10,000 feet!)
posted by notmtwain at 7:48 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm a nerd. At first thought, I began to think, "This sounds like a good plot for an action film or an anime." Then I remembered Strike Witches, which was kind of upsetting, and made me realize that no matter how cool the concept, Japan would be smart to stay away from it.

That said, a live action film would be awesome.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:50 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


that I vastly prefer his next arc in the Battlefield series, Dear Billy.

Yeah, I agree Dear Billy isn't exactly duff either... the first time I read it it totally blew me away. However when I re-read the first three Battlefields series recently this time Night Witches seem to have the edge.

Although The Boys is mad fun, Ennis just seems try so much harder when he does his war stuff, I'd recommend anyone to look up Condors from his earlier war series.

And there's a new series of Battlefields kicking off next month with Happy Valley drawn by an artist I know, PJ Holden (he's been posting up some of the art on the net and it looks excellent)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:51 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that at first, they flew in wooden planes with no parachutes. That's insane.

Welcome to all of World War I for British airmen.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:55 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


The BBC radio doc is still on the Iplayer for a couple of days more (and elsewhere...)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2009


I can't believe that at first, they flew in wooden planes with no parachutes. That's insane.

But they did give them pistols, with instructions not to be captured. (I heard a piece about them on The World yesterday.)

Fascinating stuff! I can't wait to listen to the BBC documentary.
posted by killy willy at 8:26 AM on November 6, 2009


Seriously, there are large numbers of Russian women with more certified kills in the air than American male aviators. And the fact is, no American sniper has as many kills as a lot of Russian women. Ever.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:32 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


They only had 40 two woman crews. While this is an intruiguing footnote to the war, it's not likely they had much of an impact.

However, I'm sure that all future history textbooks will devote a page to their exploits. I can't wait to what Tom Hanks does with the story. ("There's no crying at 10,000 feet!)


Except those all-women avaiation regiments were just the tip of the iceberg:

In 1944 alone:

Many other women also served integrated with men with other aviation units. For example, in 1944, 1,749 girls served with Zabaikalsky Front, 3,000 women and girls served with the Far East 10th Air Army, 437 women served with the 4th Air Army of the Second Belorussian Front that comprised the crack 46th Guards Women Air Regiment that comprised 237 women-officers, 862 sergeants, 1,125 enlisted women and 2,117 auxiliaries. They also served flying and as gunners in the famous Il-2 and Il-2M3 Shturmovik tank busters, the "Flying Bathtub".

They did a lot. Some flew better aircraft too.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


And the fact is, no American sniper has as many kills as a lot of Russian women. Ever.

Really? Got a citation? I know that Simo Hayha had almost 5 times as many kills as Adelbert Waldron, so it doesn't seem like a stretch, but it'd be interesting to have some actual names.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:46 AM on November 6, 2009


Seriously, there are large numbers of Russian women with more certified kills in the air than American male aviators. And the fact is, no American sniper has as many kills as a lot of Russian women. Ever.

Sheesh. That's just because they had the advantage of having been invaded on their own territory. Tour of duty: Four years. Lucky break, that.
posted by dhartung at 9:13 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the interesting post. Most people don't realize the extent of female participation in Russia's armed forces in WWII. From Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945, by Catherine Merridale (Picador, 2006), p. 165:
The most conspicuous innovation, which began in earnest in the summer of 1942, was the recruitment of young women. In the first weeks of the war women had been discouraged from applying for active service roles. But a labor shortage everywhere, at the front line and in the factories, changed everything. That summer, the military expressed itself keen to recruit "healthy young girls." To some extent the idea was to shame the men into greater effort. The other goal was to make civilian women more effective, to shame them, too, into working long hours in armament plants or on the farms. Either way, some 800,000 women would serve at the front during the war. Smirks and official condescension followed them. Unlike the men, they found it hard to fit their bodies into the heroic mold, to see themselves as warriors. There had been women at the front in Russia’s other wars, but never on this scale.
(There’s considerable further discussion on the experience of the women, and of course on that of the men; anyone interested in the Russian army at this period should read the book.)
posted by languagehat at 9:17 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


it looks like the Po-2 wasn't entirely exempt from bellicose uses

As a matter of fact, it was used as a bomber even in the Korean War. Facing jet fighters.
posted by Skeptic at 9:22 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Joshua Goldstein discusses the "night witches" (among other examples of women in combat) in War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the topic.

He also discusses how dire the circumstances had to be in order for the Soviets to officially sanction putting even a small number (relative to the number of men mobilized) of women into combat roles.

And he contrasts this, on a page unfortunately not available for preview in Google Books with Nazi Germany, which eventually found itself in dire straits, but adhered rigidly to an ideological position against women in combat. And he doesn't draw a link between success in combat and women's participation, that I can recall, but it was an interesting point, and I wish I hadn't lost my notes on the book so I could remember exactly what it was.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:57 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really? Got a citation? I know that Simo Hayha had almost 5 times as many kills as Adelbert Waldron, so it doesn't seem like a stretch, but it'd be interesting to have some actual names.

Its me, I always have a cite:

Lyudmila Pavlichenko 309 Kills.

Immortalized in song by no other than Woody Guthrie: Miss Pavlichenko. She toured the US and Canada and met FDR.

Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya, 308 Kills

Roza Shanina, 54 kills.

I always laugh when some idiot tells me women aren't fit for combat.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on November 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


Sheesh. That's just because they had the advantage of having been invaded on their own territory. Tour of duty: Four years. Lucky break, that.

Yes, such a lucky break, having your country invaded in the largest military operation ever and having millions of your citizens killed, some by roving SS Einsatzgruppen which only shot Jews, to the number of several million. Plus having a huge chunk of your people kidnapped and sent back to Germany as slave labor.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 AM on November 6, 2009


Here's Woody's lyrics.

The whole world will love her for a long time to come,
For more than three hundred nazis fell by your gun.
CHORUS:
Fell by your gun, yes,
Fell by your gun
For more than three hundred nazis fell by your gun.
Miss Pavlichenko's well known to fame;
Russia's your country, fighting is your game;
Your smile shines as bright as any new morning sun.
But more than three hundred nazidogs fell by your gun.
CHORUS
In your mountains and canyons quiet as the deer.
Down in your bigtrees (SIC) knowing no fear.
You lift up your sight. And down comes a hun.
And more than three hundred nazidogs fell by your gun.
CHORUS
In your hot summer's heat, in your cold wintery snow,
In all kinds of weather you track down your foe;
This world will love your sweet face the same way I've done,
'Cause more than three hundred nazzy (SIC) hound fell by your gun.
CHORUS
I'd hate to drop in a parachute and land an enemy in your land.
If your Soviet people make it so hard on invadin' men;
I wouldn't crave to meet that wrong end of such a pretty lady's gun
If her name was Pavlichenko, and mine Three O One.
CHORUS

Think I'll cover this one.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hail of Bullets has a song about these women -- "Nachthexen". Great stuff if you like old-school death metal. Their first album tells the story of Operation Barbarossa from start to finish...
posted by vorfeed at 10:05 AM on November 6, 2009


Interview with Lyidia Gudovantseva, 76 kills.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:11 AM on November 6, 2009


But they did give them pistols, with instructions not to be captured.

Well, if you think about the treatment the Nazis handed out to the Slavic peoples, getting captured would be a pretty bad idea, doubly so if a woman.

And he contrasts this, on a page unfortunately not available for preview in Google Books with Nazi Germany, which eventually found itself in dire straits, but adhered rigidly to an ideological position against women in combat. And he doesn't draw a link between success in combat and women's participation, that I can recall, but it was an interesting point, and I wish I hadn't lost my notes on the book so I could remember exactly what it was.

Not just women in combat: according to Bullock's Hitler and Stalin the Nazi government held out on even allowing women to do the kind of factory and farm work that had become routine in the Allied nations once full mobilisation occurred.
posted by rodgerd at 10:12 AM on November 6, 2009


From wikipedia...

Lyudmila Mikhailivna Pavlichenko (Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павліченко; Russian: Людмила Михайловна Павличенко Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko) (July 12, 1916 – October 10, 1974) was a Soviet sniper during World War II, credited with 309 kills, and is regarded as the greatest female sniper in history. She retired as a level 65 8th prestige. emphasis mine

What the heck is a level 65 8th prestige?

Does that mean she can cast arcane spells from the sorcerer spell list?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:11 AM on November 6, 2009 [6 favorites]


Does that mean she can cast arcane spells from the sorcerer spell list?

I think she has some sort of epic mount that she flies around on.
posted by GuyZero at 12:02 PM on November 6, 2009


I thought your prestige rolled over at 55.

sorry i had to!
posted by Talanvor at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2009


She retired as a level 65 8th prestige.

I saw that too. Screams of bad translation into English by someone lacking a lot of ideomatic knowledge of English.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


However, I'm sure that all future history textbooks will devote a page to their exploits.

Durn those revisionists and their gettin' girl cooties all over our history textbooks!
posted by Zed at 1:21 PM on November 6, 2009


« Older No, it isn't the Rock Biter from The NeverEnding ...  |  The Gecko Wears A Tiara... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments