||This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (June 2011)|
|Nadezhda Vasil'yevna Popova|
17 December 1921 |
|Service/branch||Soviet Air Forces|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Rank||Kapitan (retired list)|
|Unit||588th Night Bombing Regiment, which later became the 46th Guards Night Bombing Regiment|
|Commands held||Squadron commander|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Nadezhda Vasil'yevna Popova, (Born 17 December 1921) is one of the first military female pilots in the Soviet Union and was awarded the decorations of Hero of the Soviet Union, Gold Star, Order of Lenin, and Order of the Red Star (three times) during the Second World War.
Popova was born in Shabanovka (today's Dolgoye). Daughter of a railwayman, she grew up in Ukraine, in the area of the Donetsk coal fields. As an adolescent she loved music, song and dance, taking part in amateur plays and musicals, dreaming of becoming an actress. All changed when a small aircraft landed near her village and she became enamoured with aviation, enroling in a gliding school without telling her parents.
In 1937, at the age of sixteen she made both her first parachute jump and her first solo flight. Despite her parent's opposition she carried on with her new passion and after obtaining her flying licence, tried to enrol in a pilot school, but was rejected.
After Polina Osipenko, the then Inspector for Aviation in the Moscow Military District, recommended that she be taken as student, she was able to enrol in the Kherson flight school where she graduated at the age of eighteen. She then became a flight instructor.
World War II
After her house was taken over by invading German troops and her brother Leonid was killed at the front, she was sent by Marina Raskova to Engels to join the other women then being trained to become military pilots. She then joined a night bombing regiment, called night witches, and became commander of the 2nd Women's Regiment (1941–45), flying the Polikarpov Po-2.On 10 March 1942, during a training mission, Popova was leading a formation when two of its aircraft got lost in the heavy blizzard they were flying into and crashed into the ground, killing their all-female crews. These were the first casualties sustained by her unit.
After training, she was sent to fight in her birth region of the Donetsk coal fields. Popova was shot down several times in the three years she spent fighting, but was never wounded. On one occasion, on 2 August 1942 she was on a day reconnaissance mission when she was attacked by Luftwaffe fighters and forced into an emergency landing near Cherkessk. Trying to get back to her unit, she joined a motorized column and among the wounded met her future husband, fighter pilot Semyon Kharlamov.
She then flew a relief mission through enemy fire over Novorossiysk to drop food, water and medical supplies over the friendly forces trapped in Malaya Zemlya. They nearly didn't make it back. After returning she found that her aircraft was covered with bullet holes, down to holes in her map and helmet.
As the Axis forces began their retreat, Popova's unit followed the front through Belarus and Poland and eventually in Germany itself. It was in Poland that she reached her personal record of 18 sorties in one night.
Post war life
The 46th Guards Night Bombing Regiment was dissolved in October 1945, and when Popova returned to her town she received a hero's welcome, complete with marching band and flowers being 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 saved in Malaya Zemlya.
She married soon after the war, her husband, Semyon Kharlamov, attaining the rank of Colonel General in the Soviet Air Force. Her son, Aleksandr, is a graduate of the Air Academy. After the war she became a flight instructor for almost two decades. Popova was widowed in 1990.
- 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.
- Cottam, Kazimiera Janina. Women in War and Resistance – Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers. Newburyport MA, Focus Publishing/R. Pullins Co. 1998. ISBN 1-58510-160-5.