Nadezhda (Nadia) Vasil'yevna Popova (Ukrainian: Надія Василівна Попова, Russian: Наде́жда Васи́льевна Попо́ва; 17 December 1921 – 8 July 2013) was one of the first female military pilots in the Soviet Union, and was highly decorated with awards including the title "Hero of the Soviet Union", the Gold Star Medal, the Order of Lenin, and three Orders of the Red Star in Second World War, the only Soviet bomber pilot to be awarded three Orders of the Patriotic War for bravery.
Popova was born in Shabanovka (Orlovskaya oblast), Russia, on 17 December 1921. Daughter of a railwayman, she grew up near the Donetsk coal fields in Ukraine. As an adolescent, she loved music, song, and dance, taking part in amateur plays and musicals, dreaming of becoming an actress. The Economist reported that she was a "wild spirit, easily bored; she loved to tango, foxtrot, sing along to jazz. It made her feel free." When a small aircraft landed near her village, she became enamored with aviation, enrolling in a gliding school at the age of 15 without telling her parents. "Walking towards a plane, every time, she would get a knot in her stomach; every time she took off, she was thrilled all over again."
In 1937, she made both her first parachute jump and her first solo flight at the age of sixteen. Despite her parents' opposition, she pursued her new passion and obtained her flying license.
She was initially rejected as a student by a pilot school, but after Polina Osipenko, the Inspector for Aviation in the Moscow Military District, recommended her, she was allowed to enroll in the Kherson flight school, graduating at the age of eighteen and becoming a flight instructor.
World War II
Popova volunteered to be a military pilot, but the government initially barred women from combat and turned her away. But in October 1941, Joseph Stalin issued orders for three regiments of female pilots to be deployed.
Popova, whose brother Leonid had been killed at the front in 1941 and whose home had been taken by invading German troops, was sent by Marina Raskova to Engels to join other women being trained to become military pilots. She then joined a night bombing regiment, and rose to command the 2nd Women's Regiment (1941–45), flying the Polikarpov Po-2, a bi-plane used as a crop duster before the war. The Women's Regiment flew exclusively at night; their planes, which were not equipped with guns, radios, radar, or parachutes, would incinerate immediately if hit with even minimal ordnance.
On 10 March 1942, during a training mission, Popova was leading a formation when two aircraft got lost in a heavy blizzard and crashed, killing their all-female crews. These were the first casualties sustained by her unit. After training, she was sent to fight in her childhood home region of the Donetsk coal fields. The regiment was called "Nachthexen" (Night Witches) by the Germans "because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch’s broomstick."
Popova was shot down several times in the three years she spent fighting, but was never badly wounded. On 2 August 1942, she was on a day reconnaissance mission when she was attacked by Luftwaffe fighters and forced to make an emergency landing near Cherkessk. Trying to return to her unit, she joined a motorized column, and among the wounded met her future husband, fighter pilot Semyon Kharlamov, who was reading And Quiet Flows the Don.
She later flew a relief mission through enemy fire over Novorossiysk, dropping food, water and medical supplies to the forces trapped in Malaya Zemlya, nearly not making it. After returning, she found her aircraft riddled with bullet holes, right down to her map and helmet.
As the Axis forces began their retreat, Popova's unit followed the front through Belarus and Poland and eventually entered Germany. It was in Poland that she reached her personal record of 18 sorties in one night. Altogether, Popova made "852 sorties in the second world war as a pilot in the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, later named the 46th Guards in honor of its courage."
The 46th Guards Night Bombing Regiment was dissolved in October 1945, and Popova returned to her town to a hero's welcome, complete with marching band and flowers thrown over her car. She was driven to the theatre, where 2,000 people were waiting for her, among them one of the marines she had helped in Malaya Zemlya.
She married soon after the war - her husband went on to attain the rank of colonel general in the Soviet Air Force, and her son Aleksandr is a graduate of the Air Academy - and she worked as a flight instructor for almost two decades. Popova was widowed in 1990.
Popova died on 8 July 2013 at the age of 91.
- Hero of the Soviet Union (23 February 1945, medal No. 4849).
- Order of Lenin
- Order of the Red Banner (three times)
- Order of the Patriotic War 1st class, (twice)
- Order of the Patriotic War 2nd class
- Order of the Badge of Honour
- Order of Friendship
- Honorary citizen of Donetsk.
- Milanetti (2011), pp. 94–99.
- "Nadezhda Popova". The Daily Telegraph. 10 July 2013. (Obituary)
- Martin, Douglas (14 July 2013). "Nadezhda Popova, WWII 'Night Witch', Dies at 91". The New York Times.
- "Nadia Popova". The Economist. 19 July 2013. (Obituary)
- Milanetti (2011), p. 94.
- Milanetti (2011), p. 79.
- Milanetti (2011), p. 95.
- Axell (2002), pp. 60–68.
- Axell (2002), pp. 67-68.
- "Умерла летчица, Герой Советского Союза, уроженка Донбасса Надежда Попова" [Dead pilot, Hero of the Soviet Union, a native of Donbass Nadezhda Popova]. Nbnews.com.ua. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nadezhda Popova.|
- Axell, Albert (2002). Russia's Heroes. Little, Brown Book Group. ISBN 978-1-4721-0390-1.
- Cottam, Kazimiera J. (2006). Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers. Focus Publishing/R. Pullins. ISBN 978-1-58510-160-3.
- Milanetti, Gian Piero (2011). Le Streghe della Notte: La storia non detta delle eroiche ragazze-pilota dell'Unione Sovietica nella Grande Guerra Patriottica (in Italian). Istituto Bibliografico Napoleone, Roma, Italia. ISBN 88-7565-100-0.
- Milanetti, Gian Piero (2013). Soviet Airwomen of the Great Patriotic War - A pictorial history. Istituto Bibliografico Napoleone, Rome, Italy. ISBN 9788875651466.
- Strebe, Amy Goodpaster (2007). Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-275-99434-1.