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The Night Witches

By Patrick Van Roy On June 13th, 2019

Guest post by Paul McMahon

The commemoration of the D Day  invasion was very recently rightly remembered on ATW. The military scale of the beach landings was absolutely breathtaking and it was a deciding point in ensuring allied forces’ victory against the Nazis in Europe. However one of the things I often feel is frequently sidelined in the defeat of the Nazis in Europe was the crucial role of the USSR, particularly in the frozen hell of the Eastern Front. It’s as if the subsequent Cold War in the wake of WWII meant that recognising the role of the USSR in defeating the Nazis somehow detracts from the British / American / Resistance / Partisan collective effort in defeating the supposed Master Race, which of course it doesn’t.

I remembered reading this book The Night Witches a few years back and was struck by the incredible bravery and resilience of The Night Witches, the amazing women Russian pilots, (two of whom, Rufina Gasheva & Nataly Meklin are pictured above), who comprised the all female 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces. These women were given biplane crop dusters made of plywood and canvas and completed 30,000 bombing raids and dropped more than 23,000 tons of munitions on advancing German armies over the course of four years during World War II.

They had no radar, no machine guns, no radios, and no parachutes. All they had onboard was a map, a compass, rulers, stopwatches, flashlights, and pencils and the conditions they flew under were impossibly dangerous, risking frostbite in the freezing eastern European winter, their planes being of such primitive construction and having no armaments they could only be fitted with two bombs at a time, often having to complete an average of eight missions a night, turning off their engines and gliding their planes to their targets in order to evade German radar: The Night Witches: The All-Female World War II Squadron That Terrified The Nazis

The courage, endurance and committment displayed by these Russian women was nothing short of super human : Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night

25 Responses to “The Night Witches”

  1. As always, many thanks Pat.

  2. no prob… interesting piece. I never heard of these women. I have to get the book.

  3. turning off their engines and gliding their planes to their targets in order to evade German radar

    Er, how would that help to avoid radar?

    But, fully agree re the importance of the Rusians and only for the stupidity of Hitler invading Russia and the Russians putting up such a good fight the incredibly tenacious British fighter pilots would have fought in vain and Britain (and probably Ireland) would have fallen to the Nazis. It’d be a tough challenge to refute that.

    However the Russians did end up with a failed state. So, there is that…

  4. Well said, Paul. And fine lasses those two are. I didn’t know about these women bomber pilots. The reckless bravery of the Russians on the eastern front continues to amaze.
    A good question is whether the SU would have been able to resist so stubbornly if it were a democracy. What dya think?

    The Red Army also apparently had many women snipers who also helped shorten the war. These Annushka Oakleys played an important role in the Battle of Stalingrad. One of the most successful ladies even went on a tour of the US during the war.

    Mind you, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots were by far the most successful of the war in terms of numbers of kills, and a list of the top aces looks simply like a list of top German aces.

    It’s hard to credit, but of the top 300 air aces of the war, not one is from the western Allies.

    There are many reasons for this. But one is that the Red air force used women pilots, who were often badly trained and let Luftwaffe pilots fighting on the eastern front ramp up their tallies pretty quickly.

  5. I wasn’t able to post the comment with this link for some reason, so I’ll sent it seperately

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_World_War_II_flying_aces

    (scroll for list)

  6. Hitler was a complete idiot to invade the Russia that he had a peace deal with, yes.

    As he was to declare war on the USA, in solidarity with Japan after Peal Harbor

    Germany brought in two mighty opponents that brought it down

  7. surprised the Finnish are so high.

  8. Er, how would that help to avoid radar?

    Badly worded on my part McG. According to the article they flew at extremely and very dangerous low altitude in order to evade the Nazi radar and glided their aircraft to their targets so that the sound of the engines wouldn’t alert the soldiers on the ground to their presence, (they only flew at night).

    A good question is whether the SU would have been able to resist so stubbornly if it were a democracy.

    Good question indeed. Both Germany and Italy were dictatorships whereas Japan was an autocracy of diety proportions. I personally think it was a mixture of Slavic obstinacy, Russian patriotism and sheer military size.

    The thing that struck me most about this subject was the absolute tenacity and endurance of the woman who under the already extremely harsh conditions of the Russian fighter had to endure further extreme hardships. A lesson in endurance and courage.

  9. In fact the Soviet Union was massively militarily weakened by the Red Army purges of the 1930s. So a democratic Russia likely would have been militarily more capable of fighting the Germans.

  10. // So a democratic Russia likely would have been militarily more capable of fighting the Germans.//

    Yes, true. And it’s telling that the Soviets started stopping the Germans when better leadership arrived. Still, the western democracies put up such a poor show against the attacking Germans that it’s hard to imagine a more shambolic Russia doing much better. At any rate in the desperate and decisive battle of Stalingrad, victory for the Red Army came about only through soldiers being forced, often at the point of a gun, to cross the Volga and fight, and there were thousands of executions due to fear or desertion.

    //surprised the Finnish are so high.//

    They were trained and generally equipped by the Luftwaffe. The sole Croatian was also a Luftwaffe pilot during most of the war.
    This Croatian was an interesting chap: he first flew for his native Yugloslavia, then when that broke up after the Nazi invasion he flew for Croatia, then when Croatia joined the Axis he fought in the Luftwaffe, then at the end of the war defected to the SU and fought for the Russians, then transferred to the partisan forces and fought for Yugoslavia, then switched sides again, this time to Italy, after the war he fought in the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis, before finally going to Canada. So afaik he flew for 6 different air forces.

  11. Hard to tell. Even democratic countries of the day executed those who refused orders or deserted (though obviously not to the same degree that the Soviets did). That being said a democratic Russia may not have relied on the human wave that the Soviets used and may have used more humane (arguably more effective) tactics.

  12. When Croatia joined the Axis he fought in the Luftwaffe, then at the end of the war defected to the SU and fought for the Russians, then transferred to the partisan forces and fought for Yugoslavia

    Have to say I’m surprised at this. I thought that Josep Broz’s boys and girls would have taken a very dim view of such things.

  13. The background to the war between Germany and the Soviet Union should be reviewed especially given that material previously unavailable is now visible:

    http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v20/v20n6p59_Michaels.html

    The thoroughness and reliability of Hoffmann’s work (which helpfully includes an appendix containing key original documents in Polish, Russian, English, and German) is nicely exemplified in his treatment of Zhukov’s plan of May 15, 1941. While Sergeyev and Bezymenski seem to suggest that the plan was only recently discovered, Hoffmann makes manifestly clear that the plan has long been known and analyzed. Colonel Valeri Danilov and Dr. Heinz Magenheimer examined this plan and other documents that indicate Soviet preparations for attack almost ten years ago in an Austrian military journal (Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift, nos. 5 and 6, 1991; no. 1, 1993; and no. 1, 1994). Both researchers concluded that the Zhukov plan of May 15, 1941, reflected Stalin’s May 5, 1941 speech (see above) heralding the birth of the new offensive Red Army. Hoffmann reproduces an original document, referred to as “Short Notation of Comrade Stalin’s Speech to the Red Army Academy on May 5, 1941,” which concludes with the words:

    “But now that we have reconstructed our army and abundantly saturated it with the technology to wage modern warfare, now that we have become strong — now we are obliged to go from defense to attack. In defending our country we are obliged to act in an offensive manner. To switch over from defense to a military policy of offensive action. We must reconstruct our training, our propaganda, our agitation, and our press in the spirit of attack. The Red Army is now a modern army, and a modern army is an army of attack.”

    The Zhukov plan of May 15, 1941, indicates clearly that the Red Army planned a preemptive strike against the German forces across the border.

    Meltiukhov speculates that Stalin delayed the date for the attack when he learned, on May 12, of Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland. Stalin feared that if the Hess peace mission succeeded, and the British withdrew from the war, the Red Army would be left to stand alone against the Germans. When it became clear that the Hess mission had failed, Stalin set July 15 as the date for Operation Thunderstorm — 23 days after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa. Had the Red Army attacked on the originally scheduled date, Meltiukhov believes, it would have succeeded.

  14. I was unaware of this part of the Russian contribution to the war. Good post.

    I was aware of the Russian female snipers, some of whom were exceptionally skilled.

    https://mashable.com/2016/07/30/soviet-women-snipers/

  15. History –

    Russian women trained as sharpshooters and deployed to some of the most dangerous battlegrounds and parachuting behind enemy lines

    Russian women pilots flying at low altitude at night in plywood biplanes in sub zero temperatures terrifying the Nazis by manually bombing them.

    Allan@Aberdeen –

    Those poor lickle ickle women should have been home raising kids and making dinner.

  16. Russian women pilots flying at low altitude at night in plywood biplanes in sub zero temperatures terrifying the Nazis by manually bombing them.

    Oh yeah – the bombs were hand-made by the women themselves, and they were thrown out of the plane like babies from a Kuwaiti incubator.

    There’s one thing about shit – you don’t have to believe it and you shouldn’t expect anybody else to believe it if you are soft-headed enough to believe it yourself.

  17. Poor Allan.

  18. There’s one thing about shit – you don’t have to believe it and you shouldn’t expect anybody else to believe it if you are soft-headed enough to believe it yourself

    That’s a great summary of the vastly overwhelming number of comments that you’ve ever made here.

  19. The Soviet government was miserable but there is no doubting the courage of their soldiers.

    Allan, do you disbelieve that there were very good Russian females snipers?

  20. https://www.history.com/news/meet-the-night-witches-the-daring-female-pilots-who-bombed-nazis-by-night

    There was some upside to the older aircraft. Their maximum speed was slower than the stall speed of the Nazi planes, which meant these wooden planes, ironically, could maneuver faster than the enemy, making them hard to target. They also could easily take off and land from most locations. The downside? When coming under enemy fire, pilots had to duck by sending their planes into dives (almost none of the planes carried defense ammunition). If they happened to be hit by tracer bullets, which carry a pyrotechnic charge, their wooden planes would burst into flames.

    There were 12 commandments the Night Witches followed. The first was “be proud you are a woman.” Killing Germans was their job, but in their downtime the heroic flyers still did needlework, patchwork, decorated their planes and danced. They even put the pencils they used for navigation into double duty as eyeliner.

    Disbanded and Overlooked
    Their last flight took place on May 4, 1945—when the Night Witches flew within 60 kilometers (approx. 37 miles) of Berlin. Three days later, Germany officially surrendered.

    According to Prowse, the Germans had two theories about why these women were so successful: They were all criminals who were masters at stealing and had been sent to the front line as punishment—or they had been given special injections that allowed them to see in the night.

  21. Stop that Phantom. It’s obviously a constructed perfidy to paint the mighty Aryan warriors in a bad light. How could such lickle ickle demure females terrorise the fighting machines of the master race?

  22. ISIS murderers had a special fear of being killed by the very good women Pesh Merga.

    I’d think that Allan’s buddies may have had the same thing.

    He’s a funny guy, all skeptical about the truth, completely naive many other times.

  23. Phantom – the article to which you linked has the sentence…..

    There were 12 commandments the Night Witches followed. The first was “be proud you are a woman.” Killing Germans was their job, but in their downtime the heroic flyers still did needlework, patchwork, decorated their planes and danced. They even put the pencils they used for navigation into double duty as eyeliner.

    “be proud you are a woman”, and the entire feminist fiction is written by a Brynn Holland on July 7, 2017 in the highly corporate, leftist ‘history.com’ and it is indeed revisionist though in a gay, black, feminist way. Do you really believe that the real history of the modern era would be unaffected by control any more than the media are free and impartial. The past isn’t being revealed: it’s being erased and being re-written and you are reading it.

  24. So no one heard of these women before 2017?

    You are such an Allan.

  25. That 12.38 really is spectacular 🙂