The only combatant power to allow Female pilots to fly in combat was the USSR. In the dire opening months of the German attack the Soviet Union had suffered appalling losses. In response the aviatrix Marina Raskova organised the first all - female air Regiment - the 588th Night Bomber Squadron. Flying the venerable but reliable Po2 Biplane, the task of the Regiment was to fly nocturnal 'nuisance' missions against the German forces. The 588th flew non-stop for months and participated in the brutal battle for Stalingrad. Amongst it's pilots was 'Nadya' Popova, who would eventually complete a staggering 800+ sorties. So successful were the 588th that their German opponents nicknamed them 'Nachthexen' or 'night witches'.
Popova and her navigator - Katya Ryabova - on one occasion flew no less than 18 sorties on a single night(!) The old PO2 biplanes just about kept flying. Popova recalled.."Our planes were the slowest in the Air Force. They often came back riddled with bullets but they kept flying".
She and her fellow female aircrew also had to endure harassment from their male colleagues but by wars end the 588th had flown an incredible 24,000 sorties and Popova had been awarded 'Hero of the Soviet Union'.
Years afterwards Popova recalled "At night sometimes I look up into the dark sky, close my eyes and picture myself as a girl at the controls of my bomber and think 'Nadya, how on earth did you do it'?" This gallant lady passed away on 8th July 2013.
The Profile shows her Po2 Biplane bomber with text detailing Popova's career - and is signed in pencil by:-
'Nadya' POPOVA - 'Hero of the Soviet Union'
A Unique Piece.