Nadezhda Popova: Remembering a Night Witch

Nadezhda Popova: Remembering a Night Witch

As a teen, when other girls had posters of boy bands and the Coreys hanging on their walls, I had my beloved SR-71 Blackbird, an F-18 Hornet, and a group of penguins with one wearing a purple and green necktie bearing a caption that read “I gotta be me”.

Nadezhda Popova was one of the reasons for that, and the world lost the greatness that was The Night Witch two weeks ago. Nary a whisper was uttered.




Born in Russia in 1921, Nadezhda exhibited determination and trailblazing tendencies at a young age. At fifteen, she enrolled in a gliding school after a plane landed in a field near her home, immediately instilling in her a love of flight; she made her first parachute jump a year later. In a time when women were expected to adhere to roles mandated as acceptable and appropriate for the “fairer” sex, she graduated flight school at eighteen and became an instructor at nineteen, refusing to give up her passion.

After her brother was killed and her home taken by the Germans in 1941, she did what any self-respecting woman not content with societal dictates would do: she volunteered so she could kill Germans and avenge her family.

And she did – after being rejected initially and the creation of an all-woman unit by Stalin afforded her the opportunity. Mrs. Popova set the record for missions flown in one night by executing eighteen sorties over Poland in 1945, she was shot down on numerous occasions, she was attacked by the Luftwaffe, and she flew rescue and supply missions where she ended up with bullet holes in her helmet. A trailblazer she most certainly was, completing 852 missions throughout her career.

Called the Nachthexen, or Night Witches, because of the speed and stealth with which she and the others in her all-female unit, the 588th Night Bombing Regiment, executed their missions, only flying at night and cutting their engines as they entered radar coverage, the Germans were convinced they must be witches or forces of evil.

To say that I hold reverence for Nadezhda Popova would be an understatement, and I am immensely saddened not only by her death, but that more people do not know of her and her faits accompli. So while others are mourning Helen Thomas, cooing over the royal spawn, and arguing over who’s least racist, I pay homage to Nadezhda Popova, The Night Witch who gave a little horse-loving river chick a bit more courage when others said something was impossible.


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Godspeed, Night Witch. Thank you.

Written by

Obsessively grammatically correct and unapologetically politically incorrect Mom, better half, friend, mad scientist, Papist, and bibliophilic conservative hippie with an internet connection.

  • Merle says:

    Sad to say I never heard of her, or the entire unit, before this.
    Funny how some groups get excluded from the history books!

    • ROS says:

      I read Night Witches by Bruce Myles in junior high and became fascinated with them. I’d never have known otherwise.

  • Kate says:

    I LOVE this post. 🙂

  • Catherine Wilkinson says:

    Thank you for this education….I am in awe.

  • Maggie Goff says:

    Holy Mother!! Thank you for this.

    “Ms. Popova served with the night bombers, perhaps the most feared of the three women’s regiments. Their planes, rickety two-seaters made of plywood and canvas, were jerry-rigged as bombers.”

    “When the wind was strong it would toss the plane. In winter when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying,” she said. “If you give up nothing is done and you are not a hero. Those who gave in were gunned down and they were burned alive in their craft as they had no parachutes.”

    Once, she watched four planes crash, carrying eight women to their deaths. “What a nightmare,” she said decades later, “poor girls, my friends, only yesterday we had slept in the bunks together.”

  • Jennifer says:

    Ros, wow! As a little girl who LOVED the Blue Angels and studied hard to get a “B” in pre-algebra to secure her reward of the “Top Gun” videotape (yes I drooled over the flying as well as the fighter jocks) I say “YEAH!!” to these inspiring women! Thank you so much for sharing and educating us all! Talk about Girl Power!

    • ROS says:

      I won’t lie, I cared only for the birds in that movie and not either Tom Cruise or Val Kilmer. I also used variations of Mikoyan and Gurevich as a password for the first decade I had an email address. Oh, and there was an F-14 picture on my dresser for a short while, but my brother’s friend acquired it stealthily.

      I won’t even start on my love of Hueys.

  • Pab Carb says:

    Good to see that you´re celebrating a Heroine of the Soviet Union, that Empire of Evil that was essential to destroy Nazy Germany…

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