The Night Witches

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by NightHawk, Mar 4, 2005.

  1. NightHawk

    NightHawk Member

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    Has any body heared of The Night Witches ?.

    In 1942 the Soviet Union formed three regiments of women combat pilots who flew night combat missions of harassment bombing. They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, that were otherwise used as trainers, and which could only carry 2 bombs that weighted less than a ton altogether. They were so successful and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen"—night witches. (Some sources state that they were nicknamed "Night Witches" because it was made up entirely of female pilots and they flew their missions in the wooden Po-2's at night.)

    The Night Witches were the women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. All of the mechanics and bomb loaders of this regiment, as in the 586th IAP and the 587th Bomber Regiment, were also women.

    The Soviet women bomber pilots earned in total 23 Hero of the Soviet Union medals and dozens of Orders of the Red Banner. Two women bomber pilots—Katya Ryabova and Nadya Popova—in one night raided the Germans 18 times. The Po-2 pilots flew more than 24,000 sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. Most of the women bomber pilots who survived the war in 1945 had racked up nearly 1,000 missions each. They had served so exemplarily throughout the whole war that they participated in the final onslauqht on Berlin.


    Tactics used by the Night Witches
    The 588th, like all night bomber regiments, usually practiced harassment bombing. This consisted of going to the encampments, rear area bases, supply depots, etc., where the enemy was trying to rest from a day of heavy fighting to another, and bombing them. The strategic importance of the targets was seldom high, but the psychological effect of terror and insecurity and constant restlessness in the Germans (and Rumanians, Italians, Finns...) was very effective.
    Harassment night bombing was very difficult to do, considering the low performance of the Po-2 biplanes (their top speed was 94 mph/150 kph, less even than most World War I fighters!) and how vulnerable that made them to enemy night fighters. But the Night Witches learned their trade well. The Po-2 was very slow, but it was also very maneuverable. When a German Me-109 tried to intencept it, the Russian plane could turn violently and nimbly at much less than the 109's minimum speed (stall speed), requiring that the German make a wide circle to come in for another pass. Then he was again met with the same evasive tactic, time after time. Many pilots got to nearly earth-level, flying low enough to be hidden behind hedgerows! The German fighter could only try again and again until he got frustrated and just left the Po-2 alone. No wonder, German pilots were promised an Iron Cross for shooting down a Po-2.

    Note: Actually, the stall speed of the E, F, and G models of the Me-109 (the ones used in the Soviet Union) was nearing 120 mph/192 kph, so the Messerschmitt could never equal the speed of the Po-2, because even the Russian biplane's top speed was lesser than the German fighter's stall speed. The other fighter (more commonly) used in the Eastern Front, the Focke-Wulf FW-190A, had also a high stall speed, so its predicament was the same.

    The Witches would fly to a certain distance of the enemy encapments that were to be the target, and cut their engine. They would then glide silently, silently... When the Fascists started to hear the whistle of the wind against the Po-2's wing bracing wires, they realized in panic that it was too late. The Night Witches would sneak up on them and release their bombs, then restart their engines and fly away home.

    The Po-2 would pass often undetected by the night fighters' radar, because of the mildly radar absorbing nature of the canvas surfaces, and the fact that mostly they flew near the ground. German planes equipped with infrared seekers would not see the little heat generated by the small, 110 horsepower engine.

    Searchlights, however, were another story. The Germans at Stalingrad developed what the Russians called a "flak circus". They would bring out the flak guns that had been hidden during the day, and lay them in concentric circles around probable targets, and the same with the searchlights. Po-2s crossing the perimeter in pairs in the straight line flight path typical of untrained but determined Russian flyers were usually ripped to pieces by the Flak 37 guns. The 588th, however, developed another tactic. They flew in formations of three. Two would go in first, attract the attention of the searchlights, and when all of them pointed to them in the sky, separate suddenly in opposite directions and maneuver wildly to try to shake them off. The German searchlight operators would follow them, while the third bomber who was farther back snuck in through the darkened path made by her 2 comrades and hit the target unopposed. She would then get out, rejoin with the other two, and they would switch places until all three had delivered their payloads. It took nerves of steel to be a decoy and willingly attract enemy fire, but as Nadya Popova said: "It worked."
     

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  2. cheddar cheese

    cheddar cheese Active Member

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    Interesting! Cant say id ever heard of that before 8)
     
  3. the lancaster kicks ass

    the lancaster kicks ass Active Member

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    man that's an amazing story..........
     
  4. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    the NIght Bitches were picked up by the radar off of NJG 100's flat-bed cars. that's right trains. although slow and I mean slow the Bf 110's and Ju 88G-1's and 6's could pick these a/c up and with a several rounds knock them apart. Still admirable work for some brave women....
     
  5. mosquitoman

    mosquitoman Active Member

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    That's an amazing story Nighthawk! I knew the Russians had female pilots flying combat missions but I didn't know quite how dangerous they were
     
  6. Udet

    Udet Banned

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    I can not believe some of you never heard about those ladies.

    Their main night harrasment operations commenced during the fierce battles of late 1942 acroos the Don river bend and also in the caucasus.

    While some of the technical descriptions posted here are correct, do not be confused: the activities of the night witches have -naturally- been overinflated/overbloated by the soviet propaganda.


    Losses for the night witches were very high as well, both at the hands of German nightfighters -against which they were absolutely helpless- and of ground fire, since they flew at extremely low altitude and German troops of course learned to detect when the ancient biplanes manned by women were approaching their positions. Flying at such low altitude in those small and frail planes made them excellent targets to any personal gun/rifle carried by German troops.

    The effect of those night harrasment was more one of pushing the nerves of some German soldiers to the limit, rather than inflicting significant material damage
     
  7. NightHawk

    NightHawk Member

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    German pilots were promised an Iron Cross for shooting down a Po-2.
    Looks like the germens were realy desperat on this one. :lol:
     

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  8. Erich

    Erich the old Sage
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    what ? I don't think so...........

    the NB's were just harrasers and did nothing else. they were aerial cannon fodder
     
  9. KraziKanuK

    KraziKanuK Banned

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    The Po-2 could carry almost 2000lb of bombs on a sortie?

    Is there a typo error in your sortie number?
     
  10. NightHawk

    NightHawk Member

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    Every thing is fine,
    "bombs that weighted less than a ton altogether",
     

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  11. KraziKanuK

    KraziKanuK Banned

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    Po-2
    start mass: 983kg, empty mass: 740kg (2167lb, 1631lb)

    So the Po-2 could carry it own weight? If you say so.

    " Fliegerkorps IV organized improvised night-fighter units with He 111s from Kampfgeschwader and Bf 110s from 10./ZG 1. Operating with the support of searchlights, these night fighters occasionally took a heavy toll of the biplanes. When hit, the U-2 aircraft was easily set on fire, and the plane was almost always doomed. The crew could not escape, because parachutes were not provided until the summer of 1944.

    The most successful night-fighter pilot of 10.(NJ)/ZG 1 during this period was Oberfeldwebel Josef Kociok, who was credited with 21 night kills. On one single night, he destroyed four U-2s in a row."
     
  12. mosquitoman

    mosquitoman Active Member

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    Typical Russian tactics- use everyone as cannon fodder and some will get through
     
  13. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    Although the role of the night witches has been inflated by propaganda, the value of such harrasment interdictions shouldnt be underestimated. As the article and several users have pointed out, the psychological effect of dropping a few light bombs on tired troops in a supposed 'rest area' was utterly disproportionate to the mateial damage done.

    IIRC, the bombload of a Po-2 would be about 100-200kg (most likely a few FAB-50s). Theres no way it could lift its own weight though. 23000tons in 24000 sorties is a totally unrealistic figure. B-17s often only carried about 2-3 tons on raids into Germany!
     
  14. toffigd

    toffigd Member

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    Po-2 could carry 300kg of bombs - 6x50kg. I've got a model of this plane equipped with 6 bombs and also checked it in my books. For sure it was 300kg.
     
  15. NightHawk

    NightHawk Member

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    Like in stalingrad, And a lot more places, ive heared they send soldiers infront tanks, to go over mines, and clear the way, its all ofcourse brutal, but thay had the man power, and could offord the losses, When they got to berlin, it was a diffrent story, They send prisinors, and pretty much any body they could find to capture it.
     

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  16. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    Just as an aside to this conversation, I think Russian brutality is over-rated. While there was an undeniable attitude of the ends justifying the means in the Red Army, the Russians were shrewd planners and did not always throw lives away haphazardly. No army,no matter how large or how fearsomely disciplined, can survive the wastage the Russians are sometimes attributed with achieving.

    Just my 0.02 8)
     
  17. NightHawk

    NightHawk Member

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    Yes they had some great tactitions and leaders, But there were battles that lives were spent for nothing, Stalingrad is the best example(proberly 1 of the only ones).
     

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  18. BombTaxi

    BombTaxi Active Member

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    I would argue that Stalingrad was for from a waste of lives. The battle resulted in the encirclement and destruction of the enitre Sixth Panzerarmee and was an undobted turning point of fighting on the Eastern front.
     
  19. Nonskimmer

    Nonskimmer Active Member

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    Well we all know by now that from the very beginning of the war, Soviet training and military leadership were very poor. Stalin's purges had done their damage! They were fighting a desperate war with Germany, and had to relearn a lot of things the hard way. If not for the tremendous manpower at their disposal and the sheer vastness of the Soviet Union, I don't think they'd have stood much of a chance against the German steamroller. Manpower and geography gave them the time they needed.
     
  20. KraziKanuK

    KraziKanuK Banned

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    The Soviets could have given the Germans the city and still encircled them. It was only fought over because of the word Stalin(grad). imho naturally. ;)
     
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