A year ago, in respectable 91-year-old, reserve major Nadezhda Popilova quietly died from the life of the guard, the last of twenty-three combat pilots - “night witches” who were awarded the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union during the war. Quietly, because on the day of her death, 6 July, only a few news agencies reported what happened shortly. If any artist, even if not a particularly talented artist, or a pop-rock singer who died from a drug overdose, would have taken her place, then all the TV channels would have been broadcasting this for three days in a row, and in the newspapers there would undoubtedly be big, mournful articles, often without any reason enrolling the dead in the host of "great". And then it got to the point that only the English Telegraph remembered Popov, the true Hero of the country, more or less fully. And this publication was quoted by domestic information workers, not bothering to search for more or less additional information.
25 HEROINE BOMBERS
In the decades after the war, this was how her fighting subordinate chief of staff then 588, and later 46 of the Taman Order of the Red Banner and Suvorov, the night bomber regiment Irina Rakobolskaya: “Nadezhda Popova - Nadya — beautiful bright girl with a cheerful, laughing face. Flying recklessly, bravely ... Nadya started a war as a flight commander, was the squadron commander, then became the commander of the 2-th air squadron. Oh, how good the ducks were singing! I flew with Nadya on combat missions, flew to Belarus in search of a new airfield. She was very well oriented, and the navigator was not really needed by her. ”
From the war to her native Stalino (now Donetsk in Ukraine) she returned with eleven orders and medals, over which the Golden Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union was beaming. I wanted to spend a short vacation in a close circle of relatives, whom I had not seen for a long time, but it was not there. Countrymen and local leadership thoroughly "seized" the heroine. She told about her own exploits and bravery of front-line girlfriends during countless meetings in schools, at coal-mining and metallurgical enterprises. They looked at it, listened and "believed - did not believe", were surprised: the heroine that had passed through almost the entire war (since the fall of 1941 in the army, and from June on 1942 in the front) was only 24 of the year! Not every experienced man has distinguished himself at the front as she.
It is also interesting that Nadezhda Popova was also known to a certain extent as a prototype of Mashi- “Juliet”, the young heroine from the immortal film “Only Old Men Go into Battle”. This film was advised by her husband, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel General aviation Semyon Kharlamov, the fate of which brought hope in the years of war. He himself did not leave memories of their timid romantic relationships, but, obviously, told the director of the cinema masterpiece Leonid Bykov about them, and he introduced this touching storyline into the picture. With that, however, the difference is that for the acuity of the perception of the audience, he “killed” his heroes in love.
It is noteworthy that in the "most complete" list of heroes of the 46 Guards Women's Aviation Regiment night bomber (GZHAPNB), who fought in the last year and a half of the war as part of the 325-th night bomber aviation division of the 4-th Air Army 2 of the Belarusian Front, number today is no longer 23, but 25 people. In 1995, Senior Lieutenant Alexander Akimov retired became a Hero of Russia (it appeared to the Hero of the Soviet Union as early as April 1945 by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, but then it did not work out). December 7 2004, by the decree of the President of Kazakhstan, the title of “Halyk Kakharmany” (People’s Hero of Kazakhstan) was assigned to Khiyuaz Kairovna Dospanova (her name was Kate) - the only female Kazakh girl (if not the only Kazakh woman at the front), at one time called heart rushed into the sky and with the beginning of the war who achieved direction to the front.
DEFINED IN "TIHOHODKY"
In aviation, Nadya Popova, a schoolgirl, turned out to be a “natural” way for young people of that time. The daughter of a railway worker, she was born in Orlovschina, the family later moved to Ukraine, and there, in the 1936 year, she, the 14-year-old, graduated from the seven-year-old Stalino. By that time, the Motherland and the party had already been urging the young men and women to "change from horse to plane." In addition, the thousand-kilometer flights that were unprecedented in those times, in which women participated, were also impressive. The names of the fearless Valentina Grizodubova, Marina Raskova and Polina Osipenko, who became the first female Heroes of the Soviet Union, resounded throughout the country. Nadia did not have a horse, and she, like many others, responded and “moved” to the cabin of the winged car right from the school desk.
Nadezhda graduated from the flying club and remained there as instructors, having trained three dozen flyers, mostly guys. In 1939 she arrived in Moscow, where she met Polina Osipenko, with the assistance of which she was sent to an aviation school in Kherson. But the dream is not just to fly, but to become a military pilot did not leave her, and in 1940, Popova already studied at the Donetsk Military Aviation School. She graduated from it and received a diploma pilot-navigator.
She came to the war from evacuation: in Kattakurgan of the Samarkand region of Uzbekistan, she trained fighter pilots for front-line aviation as an instructor of primary training at a military aviation school, and in the intervals between these noble classes, she wrote one after another to send them to the front. Received failures - and again for her. All sorts of "beliefs" and the requirements of the authorities (such reports were forbidden to file) did not heed. She had her own “convincing foundation”: the girl had already tasted the horrors of the war - she lost her brother Leonid, who died in battle in the first weeks of German aggression, and lost her home. “Lena was 20 years old, and he never kissed a girl,” she later said. - Mom sobbed and said: "Damn this Hitler!"
I barely learned that Moscow decided to create a women's aviation unit (the “122 group”), and sent a “convincing” telegram to the Central Committee of the Komsomol itself. Only then was she summoned to the capital, to which the Nazi hordes were getting closer and closer. Here, in the building of the Komsomol Central Committee Hero of the Soviet Union, Major Marina Raskova formed a group of female pilots. "Group" - finely said! Raskova was recruiting neither more nor less than three women's air regiments - fighter, diving and light night bombers. Later, she herself headed the Pe-2 dive bomber regiment, but she didn’t have enough time to command them — she died in a plane crash. It is curious that Sergeant-Major Nadezhda Popova, the “fighter”, resolutely expressed a request to receive direction to the regiment, which would be the first to come to the front. And then she, surprisingly, immediately met.
The selected were sent to study in the city of Engels (Saratov region). Popova was just 20 years old. And it was the average age of the unit personnel. Other girls were both 19 and 17 – 18 years old.
Before the war, “as a pilot,” they studied for three years, but now they had to master the specialty in just six months. Engaged in at least 12 hours a day, often more, grabbing a good part of the night. They were supposed to fully master the U-2 biplane - “celestial slug”, as this plane was called (in 1944, the aircraft was renamed to Po-2 - after its untimely deceased designer Nikolai Polikarpov).
The combat path of the regiment in the North Caucasus, was continued in the Crimea and in Belarus, after which Poland, East Prussia, Oder and Berlin came. Fighting in the 46-m GJAPNB exclusively women, not a single "uncle". Even the special department was headed by a woman.
"WITCHERS" BECAME "SWALLOWS"
And here they, these beauties (just look at their photos of the frontal pores!), The enemies called "night witches" (in German Nachthexen). The Nazis associated the noise of flying Y-2 with the shaving of a broomstick: it flies, “like a witch's broom in the night,” they were frightened. According to Popova herself, “the Germans even invented a whole legend: they say,“ night witches ”are so well seen at night, that they are given some shots or give pills, and they are such notorious”.
At the same time, their male pilots were also initially skeptical, even worse. Night bombers, as soon as they appeared at the front, began to be called the “Dunkin Regiment”, as he was headed by Evdokia Bershanskaya, an 28-year-old female pilot with an 10-year-old instructor's experience. She commanded partly up to her disbandment in the Polish 15 Schweidzer of October 1945 of the year, becoming, by the way, the only woman in the whole war awarded the commanding order of Suvorov of the 3rd degree, which was awarded to regimental commanders.
At first they called the unique women's air unit and the "Babi regiment", putting into this definition a certain amount of humbling and contempt. But when, six months later, as Rakobolskaya recalled, “we became on a par with the guys we were sent to teach us, and then we started fighting better than the men, then the last ones loved us very much and began to call us“ sisters ”,“ heavenly creatures ” , "Our Marousi." In addition, less than a year later, in the midst of fighting in the Kuban, the regiment was given the rank of Guards with its renaming to 46.
In fact, on the front, in addition to the 46 women's, the order of 60 "male" regiments and night light bomber squadrons operated. But mention of them in the specialized literature and even on the “all-knowing” Internet is very stingy.
Flying stronger sex (and infantrymen, artillerymen) affectionately called bombardier girls “night swallows” - for their dexterity they cleverly and almost silently steal up to the targets of the enemy and, having bombarded themselves, just as jewelery as possible. Indeed, they were all so reckless in battle that they made 5 – 6 overnight, and during other tense dark hours - and 8 – 9 made sorties for bombings. “And before taking Warsaw, I had 16 sorties overnight. I didn't get out of the plane, - Nadezhda Vasilyevna recalled. “Sometimes in the morning after such exhausting flights it seemed that there was no strength to get out of the cabin.” And such tirelessness of Popova and other Letuni can not fail to impress, not to amaze!
The night bomber jacket, Nadezhda Popova, from May 1942-th to the end of the war carried out 852 combat sorties. Not a record. For example, her colleague Antonina Khudyakova rose 926 times into the sky of war, and Maria Smirnova - 950, Raisa Aronova - 960, Yevgenia Zhigulenko - 968; Irina Sebrova became the record holder - 1004 combat sorties. And they all became the owners of the Golden Stars.
Not a single front-line male pilot could even come close to such an achievement. Three times Heroes of the Soviet Union, the most productive Soviet aces, Ivan Kozhedub and Alexander Pokryshkin made respectively 330 and 650 sorties. Twice Cavalier Gold Star attack aircraft Alexander Efimov - 288. In the heavy bomber aviation, the record belongs, perhaps, twice to the Hero of the Soviet Union, Captain Pavel Plotnikov (after the war he rose to major general) - 305 departures.
BAD IRONY OF THE BRITISH NEWSPAPER
The British newspaper Daily Telegraph, which an article hastily released on the day of Popova’s death in 2013, was cited by some domestic media, not without apparent obscenity (just what the Russians were fighting against the Germans) wrote: “The regiment was poorly equipped and armed. Women were given a worn men's flight uniform, and they flew on the well-seen 1920-ies Po-2 (Polikarpova) aircraft made of plywood with fabric stretched over it, and the instruments there were the most primitive. There was no radio communication and armament. They did not give out parachutes to pilots ... From the point of view of strategy, objects for striking were not particularly important ... ”.
All this is mostly not so, rather than so. Obviously, the value of the U-2 / Po-2 bombing for the Soviet command remained eternal throughout the war. Otherwise, the 46 th Guards "low-speed" regiment of the "night witches" could have been disbanded shortly after the Battle of Kursk, because before the capture of Berlin, the forces of the parties were in favor of the Germans, and air supremacy was indisputable. However, the brave "swallows" continued to bomb enemy communications, right up to the approaches to the enemy's lair, from which the war was unleashed.
Victory! Heroes of the Soviet Union Nadezhda Popova (left) and Larisa Rozanova. 1945 Photo of the Year
On the personal account of Nadezhda Vasilyevna, “only” three destroyed enemy crossings, as well as a train echelon, artillery battery, two searchlights and 600 thousand propaganda leaflets dropped in the German rear. On the scale of that war, especially for the huge 2 of the Byelorussian Front, on which it ended the war, is a miser. For a particular narrow section of the same front, you cannot say so. In addition, Popova bombed not one - flew a whole regiment. And by and large, it was precisely from such victories of "local importance" that the Great Victory ultimately developed, to which there were four long years.
And about the fact that pilots 46-go-go "anyhow what," - also unfair manipulation of facts. According to the recollections of Irina Rakobolskaya, at first, while rolling back to the Volga and everything in the army was in short supply, it really took some time to be content with what was at hand, because they did not sew en masse for women in the army (“Get 40 boots of size It was a great happiness, they were already happy about 42, they were all wearing mostly 43. ”) But already after 7 in November 1942 of the year - after visiting the unit by the commander of the Southern Front, Army General Ivan Tyulenev - a sewing workshop was sent to the regiment: “We took measurements for all the girls and we sewed blue skirts and brown tunics. Tyulenev sent another white matter so that the girls themselves sewed their underwear. ” From this example, it is clear that the command, as it could, took care of its “night swallows”.
DEAR ENEMY "RUS Plywood"
As for the British newspaper’s irony about the “antediluvian” aircraft, on which Nadezhda Popova and her fighting friends fought, this does not hold water.
In Hitler’s Luftwaffe, the capabilities of the Y-2 / Po-2 were not dismissively evaluated. Is that in the first year of the war, the Germans laughed, calling it "a miracle of technology" jestingly "Russian plywood." But just as the female regiment began to act on the front, the term “Russian mosquito aviation” began to appear in the staff documents of the Luftwaffe. In the German military leadership, they recalled how a series of small bombs were dropped from a British single-engine airplane onto a German Zeppelin airship on the German airship — in an instant, the air gigantin was set on fire and exploded with a torch and fell to the ground. It was then that such blows were compared with the deadly bites of mosquitoes — small but very dangerous midges, predominantly in the tropics.
“These planes did not allow us to live - we cannot light a fire either in the stove or in a small fire - the crews of U-2 immediately discover them and drop bombs. They find us constantly - so we have to sit in trenches all night to avoid losses, ”one of the Wehrmacht veterans admitted. An eloquent fact: in August 1943, during the battle for Donbass, regular nightly raids of U-2 on the Ouspenskaya railway junction reduced its carrying capacity by 50% - the Germans stopped night transportation, fearing the complete exit of this important station from the system. Now the German soldiers in the front-line, who regularly experienced the “bites” of the Russian “air slug”, already called him much less daunting - “Kaffeemuhle” (coffee grinder) and “Haltsnahmaschine” (sewing machine).
At-2, at first glance, was really "poor" in terms of its combat use. It was created as a training aircraft at the end of 1920 and since then has not undergone any radical upgrades. A wooden construction with percale lining, not equipped with a walkie-talkie and devices that would help pilots to distinguish objects on the ground at night, this “flying tarahchka”, with its engine power, could reach a speed of no more than 140 km per hour, and with a full combat load, even less - only 100 – 120 km per hour. Because of this, his “flying” with the onset of hostilities in Y-2 saw not any formidable fighting unit, but “obvious uselessness” - only an easy air target, which they would shoot down - would not be expensive.
“The wings (planes) were generally made of fabric, only at the edges were edged with a tree, poke a finger - there will be a hole. The cockpit - open, no bulletproof protector against bullets ”- such depressing touches to the“ portrait ”of her beloved airplane, the model of which she had kept all her life at home, added the chief of staff of the female air regiment, Lt. Col. Rakobolskaya.
In the Red Army, in addition to this nickname, a couple of not very “beautiful” nicknames were assigned to the “air slug” - the “flying bookcase” (it was somewhat like it) and the “corn duster” (because it didn't even need an aerodrome - the plane could land and take off from the mongrel fields, and from narrow lawns, and from small glades in the forest, and from the village streets.
With all this, his “misery”, this creation of Polikarpov’s design thought could transport from 100 to 300 kg bombs, and sometimes Y-2 “took the weight” in 400, and even in 500 “combat kilo”. And someone ingeniously thought of using it as a night bomber!
In this capacity, in the Great Patriotic War, U (By) -2 has proven to be an excellent machine. During the night, as noted above, the aircraft managed to make up to a dozen sorties, and the total bomb load was comparable to the load of a large bomber (for example, the Pe-2 most powerful Soviet bomber carrying a bomb in the fuselage and a kg 600 on an external suspension) . There were no scopes for bombing, but the girls "invented" them themselves, and without further ado, called CPD - more simply steamed turnips.
During the war, almost all seemingly “funny” qualities of U (By) -2 became its remarkable advantages! And already by 1943, this “tortoise-like crawling across the sky” aircraft was respectfully called the “foreman”. And even - with respectful humor - "the king of air"! A low rumbling low-powered motor of the "bookcase" allowed her in the middle of the night, especially if the darkness was filled with other sounds of military operations, to quietly approach the targets of the enemy and quite unexpectedly fall on their heads.
In other situations, “Rus plywood” was completely irreplaceable! The son of Hero of the Soviet Union Raisa Aronova Anatoly Plyats recalled his mother’s story: “In the Caucasus, when German Tanks crawled into gorges at night, attack aircraft could not get them. And our plane, equipped with captured incendiary bombs, first attacked the head tank of the column, then the closure, then all the rest.
These slow-moving “maize farmers” managed by the girls inflicted so much damage on the enemy that a legend arose that the Ashes of the Luftwaffe promised one of the prestigious awards of the Reich for the knocked-down night witch - the Iron Cross and the 2 premium of thousand Reichsmarks! One way or another, but paradoxically, knocking down U (By) -2 was as difficult as it was easy.
It is difficult - at night, so the girls were bombed only at this time of day. Against him was powerless air defense. The attack technique of the Russian “air grinder” was that a group of aircraft approached the target at low gas and at ultra low altitude, and enemy air defenses were often recalled only when bombs were falling from the sky onto military orders or communications.
It is easy - in the afternoon: the “barely flying” slug was indeed a great target. But even the Luftwaffe aces had a hard time hitting a light bomber because of its small size and snail speed. To attack the German pilots had to reduce the speed to a minimum, and even release the chassis. The Flyuni, on the other hand, contrived their clever maneuvers, utterly clinging to the ground, to move away from the persecution of the Hitlerite vultures.
This is hard to believe, but the Po-2 as a light bomber and even attack aircraft (!) Was also actively used in the 1950 – 1953, a completely “qualitatively different” Korean war, when jet aviation dominated the sky.
Polikarpov's bomber was extremely tenacious. Once, near Novorossiysk, German anti-aircraft gunners, having caught the "Russian plywood" of Nadezhda Popova and her co-driver Ekaterina Ryabova, in the crosshairs of searchlights, opened heavy fire on the car. “You should see what happened to our Y-2! The technicians counted 42 holes in it one another more, - Nadezhda Vasilyevna recalled that case. "Despite this, the plane did not require any long repairs, the fuselage and wings quickly patched up, and we again flew out on a combat mission."
It is true that the "night witches" almost all the war flew without parachutes. But why? From the very beginning of the use of the U-2 as a night bombers, it was the understanding that parachutes were useless if the plane was shot down. Nadezhda Popova asserted: “Even if we had parachutes with us, we would still not be able to escape, since we flew at low and very low altitudes, at best would have been crippled.” The girls' parachutes were obliged to be worn only at the end of 1944, after two female pilots were burned in an airplane over our territory. But the living were not very happy with the means of salvation: the cabin was already crowded, and the navigator also took bombs to his knees. Yes, and it was hard for the “night swallows” to be controlled with a 15-kilogram parachute. Although the lives of some of them were saved thanks to him.
“FROM THE FRONT HOME, NO ONE FROM US HAVE RUNNED”
For girls, each flight, taking into account the mentioned characteristics of their combat slug, was not only dangerous (and where it is not dangerous in war ?!), but also very difficult. “We had to see for ourselves from above the target, on which it is necessary to drop bombs. And for this it was necessary to decrease as much as possible, - explained Nadezhda Vasilyevna. - At this time, catching the sound of our engines, the German anti-aircraft gunners sought to catch us in the searchlight and opened fire. These searchlights for us were similar to death, because they blinded the pilot, and then it was extremely difficult to fly. Each time I had to squeeze myself into a lump in order to precisely drop bombs, and even worse - not to give in to such a barrage of fire that fell on us, not to turn aside. After all, among us were those who were afraid of gray mice, but here ... "
To say that in many, many cases, girls flew not just to the limit, but even above technical and human capabilities, will not be the slightest exaggeration. After other flights, they returned, looked at each other or hurried to the mirror, brought his hair closer to him: did they not turn gray?
Popova had more than once, with her heart out loud, “indifferently” to watch her fighting friends die before her eyes: “This is scary. Before your eyes, the crew burns alive along with the plane, and you can’t help with anything ... We lost a lot of fighting friends, a lot. ”
We will clarify here, however, about the "very large" losses in the regiment - this was the former combat pilots who had more from emotion, from deep bitterness from losses. In fact, for three years of participation in the war, this women's aviation unit has lost relatively few pilots (13) and navigators (10) from enemy fire. Another 9 girls died in plane crashes or died from diseases. The regiment lost 28 aircraft. Even on the website "Night Witches" it is noted that "for the aviation regiment such losses are small." This was due to the fact that in the 46 Guards Aviation Regiment a good practice of training air fighters was established: “Skilful pilots commissioned inexperienced pilots and experienced novice pilots.”
In one of her last TV interviews, the presenter asked that she and her fighting friends “helped hold on”, Nadezhda Vasilyevna replied: “Such a charge of our own internal energy supported us, such an amazing situation reigned, there was unlimited responsibility, a sense of duty to our people in front of their country! We were brought up as in the song - “First think about the Motherland, and then about yourself”! And in war, we were all ready to execute any order, without discussing. ”
And she explained: “It was difficult for us, it was very difficult to survive the loss of fighting friends, but nevertheless not a single girl left the front. Many girls were talented, wrote poems, even poems, dreamed about love, about a beautiful happy life, about a good favorite profession. But no one cried, no one asked to be sent to the rear or home, we were all volunteers and, despite all the horrors of the war, we were able to maintain a high mood of the soul. We, as we could, brought the Victory closer, we thought the war would end, and then life would be better! .. ”
In these words, there is not a grain of exaggeration, panache, "excessive patriotism." These were each of the 261 Letuny and navigator, as well as the technicians of the 46 air regiment ... Yesterday's student Zhenya Rudneva, who dreamed of science, who was killed in 23, wrote science in her front-line diary: “I really miss astronomy, but I don’t regret going into the army : here we will break the invaders, then we will undertake the restoration of astronomy. Without a free Motherland, there can be no free science! ”It was not destined for her to either complete her studies, nor share her skills, nor, as one of her friends wished her for the New Year, to taste the first kiss.
Some of the “night witches” - “night swallows” who met the Victory, were given long life by fate, they passed the 90-summer frontier. Including Nadezhda Vasilyevna Popova. And who knows, maybe she had a chance to “live” (and “love”) a part of her life for dead un-kissed fighting friends, who, like Zhenya Rudneva, had not turned 24 into years before her death.