An insightful documentary into the prosperity Islam engendered in Europe during its glorious reign there.
In truth everything and everyone
Is a shadow of the Beloved,
And our seeking is His seeking
And our words are His words…
We search for Him here and there,
…while looking right at Him.
Sitting by His side, we ask:
‘O Beloved, where is the Beloved?’
“Night Witches” is the English translation of Nachthexena , World War II German nickname (Russian Ночные ведьмы, Nochnye Vedmy), for the female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces. The regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya.
The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war. At its largest size, it had 40 two-person crews. It flew over 23,000 sorties and is said to have dropped  3,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat.
The regiment flew in wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in all of aviation history. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, the German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots “Night Witches.” Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.
From June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was within the 4th Air Army. In February 1943 the regiment was honored with a reorganization into the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and in October 1943 it became the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. The word Taman referred to the unit’s involvement in two celebrated Soviet victories on the Taman Peninsula, during 1943.
The story of the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP) in the United States is relatively well known. Much less well known however is the story of the Night Witches, an incredible group of Soviet women who flew bombing missions during World War II.
The year was 1941 and Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. By November the German army was just 19 miles from Moscow. Leningrad was under siege and 3 million Russians had been taken prisoner. The Soviet air force was grounded.
In the summer of 1941 Marina Raskova, a record-breaking aviatrix, was called upon to organize a regiment of women pilots to fly night combat missions of harassment bombing. From mechanics to navigators, pilots and officers, the 588th regiment was composed entirely of women. The 588th was so successful and deadly that the Germans came to fear them, calling them Nachthexen–night witches.
The women, most of them barely 20 years old, started training in Engels, a small town north of Stalingrad. The women of the 588th flew their first bombing mission on June 8, 1942. It consisted of three planes; their target was the headquarters of a German division. The raid was successful but one plane was lost.
The 588th flew thousands of combat bombing missions. They fought non-stop for months, sometimes flying 15 to 18 missions on the same night. They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 wooden biplanes that were otherwise used as trainers. They could only carry two bombs that weighed less than a ton altogether. Most of the women who survived the war had, by the end, flown almost a thousand missions each.
Nadya Popova recalls those missions and comments that it was a miracle the Witches didn’t suffer more losses. Their planes were the slowest ones in the air force and often came back riddled with bullets, but they kept flying. In August of 1942 Nadya and her navigator crashed in the Caucasus. They were found alive a few days later.
Years after the war, Nadya commented that she used to sometimes look up into the dark night sky, remembering when she was a young girl crouched at the controls of her bomber, and she would say to herself, “Nadya, how did you do it?”
There was a great deal of resistance to the idea of women combat pilots from their male counterparts. The women had to fight both enemy aircraft as well as the resentment of their male colleagues. In spite of the never-ending fatigue , the loss of friends, and sexual harassment from their suspicious male counterparts, the women kept on flying. Eventually the Soviets formed three regiments of women combat pilots — the 586th, the 587th and the 588th.
The 586th also trained at Engels, first in the two-seat Yak-7 trainers and later on in the Yak-1 fighters. The women proved themselves to be as good as the men. The most outstanding pilots were Raisa Belyaeva and Valeria Khomyakova. The later was allowed to fly solo in the Yak-1 after just 52 minutes of dual instruction. She earned the grade of “excellent” during one trial flight but on a subsequent flight crash-landed on the frozen Volga River when she switched to an empty fuel tank. All of the women had their hands full, learning so much information in such a short amount of time.
The female mechanics also had their hands full with the demanding task of keeping the planes flying. The winter of 1942 was brutally cold, with temperatures plunging as low as -54F and countless snow storms. One night in March of that year the women were called upon to save the aircraft from being blown over by gale-force winds. Several women would literally lie on the wings and horizontal stabilizers of each plane, using the weight of their bodies to keep the planes from blowing away. When the wind subsided, the women looked like snowmen, but the planes were intact. Their respite was brief however. By noon the storm had resumed, and again the women rushed to the airfield to save the planes. The storm finally blew itself out around midnight, and the exhausted women, soaked to the skin and half frozen, could finally rest.
Tactics used by the Night Witches
The Night Witches practiced what is known as harassment bombing. Their targets were encampments, supply depots, rear base areas, etc. Their constant raids made rest for the troops difficult and left them feeling very insecure.
The top speed of the Po-2 biplane was 94 mph ((82 knots). This is slower than even most World War I fighters and left them very vulnerable to enemy night fighters. But the Night Witches learned their craft well. The Po-2 was very slow, but it was also extremely maneuverable. When a German Me-109 tried to intercept it, the Night Witches would throw their Po-2 biplanes into a tight turn at an airspeed that was below the stalling speed of the Me-109. This forced the German pilot to make a wider circle and come back for another try, only to be met by the same tactic, time after time. Many of the Witches flew so low to the ground that they were hidden by hedgerows! Completely frustrated, the German pilots would finally simply give up and leave the Po-2 biplanes alone. German pilots were promised an Iron Cross for shooting down a Po-2!
The stall speed of an Me-109 E,F and G models was about 120 mph ((104 knots). This made the top speed of the Po-2 biplanes slower than the stalling speed of the German fighters. The Focke-Wulf, also used in the Eastern front, had a high stalling speed as well, so it suffered the same fate.
The Witches developed the technique of flying close to their intended targets, then cutting their engines. Silently they would glide to their targets and release their bombs. Then they would restart their engines and fly away. The first warning the Germans had of an impending raid was the sound of the wind whistling against the wing bracing wires of the Po-2s, and by then it was too late.
The Po-2 would often pass undetected by the radar of the German fighters due to the unreflective nature of the canvas surfaces and also because they flew so low to the ground. Planes equipped with infrared heat seekers fared no better at detecting them due to the small heat emission from their puny little 110-hp engines.
Searchlights, however presented a big problem. The Germans at Stalingrad developed what the Russians called a “flak circus”. They would arrange flak guns and searchlights (hidden during the day) in concentric circles around probable targets. Planes flying in pairs in a straight-line flight path across the perimeter were often ripped to shreds by the flak guns. So the Night Witches of the 588th developed their own technique to deal with the problem. They flew in groups of three. Two would go in and deliberately attract the attention of the Germans. When all the searchlights were pointed at them, the two pilots would suddenly separate, flying in opposite directions and maneuvering wildly to shake off the searchlight operators who were trying to follow them. In the meantime the third pilot would fly in through the dark path cleared by her two teammates and hit the target virtually unopposed. She would then get out, rejoin the other two, and they would switch places until all three had delivered their payloads. As Nadya Popova noted, it took nerves of steel to be a decoy and willingly attract enemy fire, but it worked very well.
Marina Raskova – record-breaking Soviet aviatrix
In 1938 Marina Raskova and two other women set a world record for non-stop direct flight by women when they flew an ANT-37, a Soviet-built twin-engine aircraft named Rodina (homeland), 6,000 kilometers (3,240 nautical miles) from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur on the southeastern tip of Siberia.
The aircraft started icing up over Siberia, and the women struggled to gain altitude. They threw everything they could move out of the airplane, but still they continued to lose altitude. Realizing they were out of options and a crash was inevitable unless they could further lighten the plane, Marina, who was the navigator on the flight, decided upon a daring course of action. Noting their position on a map she bailed out into the frigid darkness of Siberia. The two remaining women eventually landed safely at their destination, and a hunter rescued Marina.
Marina and the other two women were the first women to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for their record-breaking flight. It was Marina’s accomplishments and visibility that helped her persuade Stalin to form the three regiments of women combat pilots.
Hundreds of women served as Soviet combat pilots and flight crew during World War II. Other nations allowed a few women to fly as flight instructors, test or ferry pilots, but only the Red Air Force sent women into battle. This was not from any shortage of male aviators – theLuftwaffe’s destruction of hundreds of Soviet planes on the ground in the war’s opening strikes left a surplus of pilots, but a desperate shortage of modern aircraft. So women combat pilots were not a propaganda ploy to show off Communist “gender equality” – there was very little wartime publicity for the female aviators. The battle to let Soviet women fly in combat was the achievement of one young major, Marina M. Raskova.
To my shame, I’d never heard of the “Night Witches” until reading that Nadezhda Popova died earlier this month. Once I learned more, I was amazed. The Night Witches were an elite team of all-female bomber pilots who flew old cropdusting planes and kicked so much Nazi ass.
Popova died at 91, a veteran of 852 bombing missions. That’s about how many dinners you’ve eaten for over two years, just to give a sense of scale. Combined, the Night Witches flew over 30,000 missions, dropping over 23,000 tons of bombs on German invaders in the Soviet Union, with each plane dropping one or two bombs at most. These missions that the Night Witches flew are pretty incredible even if she’d only flown one.
During World War II, American women were put to work; in Russia, women were put to war. In 1941, Operation Barbarossa meant the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi forces, and the Soviets’ foray into an untapped reservoir of strength: female bomber pilots. Though Soviet women were barred from combat at the beginning of the war, a record-breaking aviatrix named Marina Raskova (hailed as the “Soviet Amelia Earhart”) was later called upon by Joseph Stalin to organize a regiment of young female pilots to fight the German invaders, making the Soviet Union the first nation to allow women to fly combat missions.
The Nazis dubbed them the ‘Night Witches’, on account of the way they would cut their aircraft engines to silently swoop in before dropping their bombs.
The ‘whooshing’ noise they made as they passed overhead was said to resemble a witch’s broomstick.
In 1941, as the Soviet Union struggled desperately to stop the German advance, Stalin ordered the formation of three all-women air force units.
Among the first volunteers was 19-year-old Nadezhda Popova, who would go on to become one of the most celebrated heroes of the Soviet Union.
Popova, who died this week at the age of 91, flew 852 missions against the Germans in rickety wooden biplanes and was shot down several times.
Her unit, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was equipped with obsolete two-seater Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes.
The aircraft, made of wood and fabric, were slow and cumbersome. They had no radio, no guns and no parachutes.
To navigate, the pilots used a stopwatch and a map. They were too vulnerable to fly during the day so only flew night missions.
Their job was to harass the German positions, taking out the troops’ encampments, storage depots and supply lines.
The ‘Night Witch’ who carried out hundreds of bombing raids as part of Russia’s elite all-women World War Two air squad
Liudmyla Mykhailivna Pavlychenko (Ukrainian: Людмила Михайлівна Павличенко; Russian: Людмила Михайловна Павличенко; Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko; July 12, 1916 – October 10, 1974) was a Soviet sniper during World War II. Credited with 309 kills, she is regarded as the most successful female sniper in history.
In June 1941, 24-year old Pavlichenko was in her fourth year of studying history at the Kiev University when Germany began its invasion of the Soviet Union. Pavlichenko was among the first round of volunteers at the recruiting office, where she requested to join the infantry and subsequently she was assigned to the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division; Pavlichenko had the option of becoming a nurse but refused; “I joined the army when women were not yet accepted”. There she became one of 2,000 female snipers in the Red Army, of whom about 500 survived the war. She made her first two kills as a sniper near Belyayevka, using a Tokarev SVT-40 semi-automatic rifle with 3.5X telescopic sight.
Pvt. Pavlichenko fought for about two and a half months near Odessa where she recorded 187 kills. When the Romanians gained control of Odessa her unit was sent to Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula, where she fought for more than eight months. In May 1942, Lieutenant Pavlichenko was cited by the Southern Army Council for killing 257 German soldiers. Her total of confirmed kills during World War II was 309, including 36 enemy snipers.
In June 1942, Pavlichenko was wounded by mortar fire. Because of her growing status she was withdrawn from combat less than a month after recovering from her wound.
While functioning as a public spokesman, Pavlichenko became the first citizen of the Soviet Union to be received at the White House by a U.S. President, in this case Franklin Roosevelt. Miss Pavlichenko was not impressed by the U.S. media who were more concerned with her outfit than the war and her experiences in it.
I am amazed at the kind of questions put to me by the women press correspondents in Washington. Don’t they know there is a war? They asked me silly questions such as do I use powder and rouge and nail polish and do I curl my hair? One reporter even criticized the length of the skirt of my uniform, saying that in America women wear shorter skirts and besides my uniform made me look fat…This made me angry. I wear my uniform with honor. It has the Order of Lenin on it. It has been covered with blood in battle. It is plain to see that with American women what is important is whether they wear silk underwear under their uniforms. What the uniform stands for, they have yet to learn.
American anti-fascist folk musician Woody Guthrie recorded a song in 1946 entitled “Miss Pavlichenko” as a tribute to Ludmila Pavlichenko ….
Miss Pavilichenko’s well known to fame;
Russia’s your country,fighting is your game;
The whole world will love her for a long time to come,
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.
Miss Pavilichenko’s well known to fame:
Russia’s your country, fighting is your game;
Your smile shines as bright
As my new morning sun.
But more than three hundred nazisdogs fell by your gun.
In you mountains and canyons
Quiet as the deer.
Down in your bigtrees knowing no fear.
You lift up your sight,
And down comes a hun;
And more than three hundred nazidogs
Fell by your gun.
In your hot summer’s heat,
In your cold wintery snow,
In all kinds of weather you track down your foe,
This world will love your sweet face
The same way I’ve done,
‘Cause more than three hundred nazzy hound
Fell by your gun.
I’d hate to drop in a parachute
And land and enemy in your land;
If your Soviet people make it so hard on invadin’ men:
Of such a pretty lady’s gun
If her name was Pavilichenko, and mine Three O One.
Chorus (after every verse)
Fell by your gun, yes, Fell by your gun,
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.
Pavlichenko would “go hunting” either alone or with Leonid Kutsenko – who joined the division together with her – everyday at dawn lying still for hours or days waiting for an enemy. She often emerged the victor fighting a duel with German snipers.
Once the two snipers were spotted by German officers who opened mortar fire. Leonid was badly wounded and Pavlichenko managed to evacuate him from the battlefield but he still didn’t survive. Since then, she would fight even more courageously taking vengeance on the enemy for her late friend.
She was so badass that she survived having some heavy artillery explode in her face. Obviously it slowed her down a little and she had to be taken off active duty. She spent the remainder of the war working as an instructor at Russian sniper school, where she educated a whole new generation of dead-eye balls-out snipers. After the war she completed her degree in History at Kiev State and got a job as a military historian working for the Soviet Defense Ministry.
Read more here:
The Badass of the Week ~ Lyudmila Pavlichenko
Historians have always said there are two things the German’s didn’t expect going into the Soviet Union: the weather and the women. A hero of the Soviet Union (and a Ukrainian) Lyudmila Pavlichenko had 309 recorded (witnessed) kills against German soldiers during her service as a Sniper. 39 of those kills were enemy snipers. She fought in Crimea, Odessa and many other places. She was only one of 2,000 women trained and fighting as snipers against the Germans. The Russians had 800,000 women in uniform, from nurses and admin staff all the way to snipers and specialists on the front lines.
Shanina volunteered for the military after the death of her brother in 1941 and chose to be a marksman on the front line. Praised for her shooting accuracy, Shanina was capable of precisely hitting moving enemy personnel and making doublets (two target hits by two rounds fired in quick succession).
Read in Full about Roza Shanina:
Born in 1926. The war began when I was 15. I went to work at the “Respirator” munitions factory in Orekhovo-Zuevo. When the war started, we needed worker ration cards, which gave 700 g of bread. So I worked there, joined the Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth – trans.). On days off Komsomol members were required to attend classes for our secondary education. They were preparing us. Later, when we finished the secondary education, they said that a sniper school had opened. Many volunteered to attend it, and I also went there, being 17 years of age. That was in June 1943. I was the youngest at the school. Everyone was 18, and I was 17. They were thinking, should they turn me away or not? Decided that if I didn’t fall behind, they would leave me at the school.
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Manshuk “Mansiya” Zhiengalieva Mametova or Mänşük Jïenğaliqizi Mämetova (Kazakh: Мәншүк Жиенғалиқызы Мәметова; Russian: Маншук Жиенгалиевна Маметова; (23 October 1922 – 15 October 1943) was a Soviet Kazakh machine gunner of the 21st Rifle Division of the 3rd Guard Shock Army and the first Soviet Asian woman to receive the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for acts of bravery.
Orphaned at very young age, Manshuk Mametova spent her childhood in Almaty, under care of A. Mametova. At the time the Second World War began, she was studying at Almaty Medical Institute.
She had been taken to war as a volunteer in 1942. As a machine gunner, she showed bravery and courage. She was killed in a battle for Nevel.
Many streets and schools in Almaty, Nevel, Oral and other cities were named after her, and monuments in her honour may be found in many parts of former Soviet Union.
Manshuk Mametova was a distinguished Soviet soldier in the Second World War. Originally only assigned clerk duty, she managed to be assigned to combat duty rather quickly and played a very crucial part (if not the crucial part) in deciding the battle for Nevel, a strategically important town in Western Russia. For her role during this fight she was awarded the Order of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest military honor in the USSR, and effectively became the first woman from the Asian parts of the Soviet Union to be awarded this order.
Read in Full Here: