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. The Russian women who piloted those planes, onetime crop dusters, took it as a compliment. In 30,000 missions over four years, they dumped 23,000 tons of bombs on the German invaders, ultimately helping to chase them back to Berlin. Any German pilot who downed a “witch” was awarded an Iron Cross.Read more
These young heroines, all volunteers and most in their teens and early 20s, became legends of World War II but are now largely forgotten. 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. Their uniforms were hand-me-downs from male pilots. Their faces froze in the open cockpits. Each night, the 40 or so two-woman crews flew 8 or more missions — sometimes as many as 18.
Ms. Popova, standing, with other Soviet pilots in World War II. "We bombed, we killed; it was all a part of war," she said in 2010.