Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nadezhda Popova Dec. 17, 1921 - July 8, 2013 Led Squad of Soviet Female Pilots during Wwii

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Nadezhda Popova Dec. 17, 1921 - July 8, 2013 Led Squad of Soviet Female Pilots during Wwii

Article excerpt

Nadezhda Popova, a Soviet aviator who became one of the most celebrated of the so-called "Night Witches," female military pilots who terrorized the Nazi enemy with their nocturnal air raids during World War II, died July 8. She was 91.

Her death was reported by The (London) Daily Telegraph. The place and cause could not immediately be confirmed. In a statement, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych called Ms. Popova's life "an example of selfless service to the Motherland." Her "feats in the course of the Great Patriotic War," he said, "will never be forgotten."

Ms. Popova was among the first female pilots to volunteer for service in the Soviet military during World War II and became a squadron commander in her swashbuckling all-female regiment. She flew 852 combat missions -- including 18 during one night -- and was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union, one of the nation's highest decorations.

Like American women in the age of Amelia Earhart, many Soviet women had become enchanted with aviation in the 1930s. They were initially rejected for combat service during World War II, but Soviet leader Joseph Stalin thought better of the decision in 1941, when Germany broke the Soviet-German nonaggression pact and invaded.

Three women's regiments were born of necessity. While other nations employed female pilots largely in support roles, the Soviets dispatched their female aviators on delivery and reconnaissance missions, as well as daring raids to take out enemy targets. The women were treated in many respects like their male colleagues, although they did receive larger soap rations.

Cmdr. Popova served with the night bombers, perhaps the most feared of the three all-female regiments. Their planes, rickety two- seaters made of plywood and canvas, were jerry-rigged as bombers.

The pilots achieved a degree of surprise by shutting down their engines in the last stages of their bomb runs; the Germans heard only the hiss of the air flowing across their wings and, likening the sound to that of a broomstick in flight, came to refer to the women as Night Witches. …

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