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Zoom Nadezhda Popova, who has died aged 91, was a member of an elite corps of Soviet women — known as the “Night Witches” — who fought as bomber pilots in the air war against Germany, and the only one to win three Orders of the Patriotic War for bravery.

Unlike Soviet men, women were not formally conscripted into the armed forces. They were volunteers. But the haemorrhaging of the Red Army after the routs of 1941 saw mass campaigns to induct women into the military. They were to play an essential role. More than 8,000 women fought in the charnel house of Stalingrad.


In late 1941 Stalin signed an order to establish three all-women Air Force units to be grouped into separate fighter, dive bomber and night bomber regiments. Over the next four years these regiments flew a combined total of more than 30,000 combat sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. Nadezhda Popova, then aged 19, was one of the first to join the best-known of the three units, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment (later renamed the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment).

Nadezhda Popova, who has died aged 91, was a member of an elite corps of Soviet women — known as the “Night Witches” — who fought as bomber pilots in the air war against Germany, and the only one to win three Orders of the Patriotic War for bravery.

Unlike Soviet men, women were not formally conscripted into the armed forces. They were volunteers. But the haemorrhaging of the Red Army after the routs of 1941 saw mass campaigns to induct women into the military. They were to play an essential role. More than 8,000 women fought in the charnel house of Stalingrad.

In late 1941 Stalin signed an order to establish three all-women Air Force units to be grouped into separate fighter, dive bomber and night bomber regiments. Over the next four years these regiments flew a combined total of more than 30,000 combat sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. Nadezhda Popova, then aged 19, was one of the first to join the best-known of the three units, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment (later renamed the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment).

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