Russian "Night Witches" To Invade America

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On Saturday, June 18, San Diego's Aerospace Museum will play host to some truly remarkable women, and you can be there. Though little-known in the West, the Russian "Night Witches" of World War II were as highly regarded by the Russians as they were despised by the German troops they harassed. Female pilot Marina Raskova convinced Joseph Stalin that women could help him win the war, and three all-female regiments were formed. Some of the pilots were only 17 years old, some flew more than 800 sorties, and many were shot down, some more than once. Five of those women will be telling their stories at the museum event. Of the three regiments, one flew Yak fighters, another Pe-2 dive bombers, and a third a slow, outdated wood-and-fabric biplane called a Polikarpov Po-2. The Po-2 pilots flew night harassment raids against the Germans, sometimes five to 15 missions a night in the brutal Russian winter, flying low and slow over their targets while caught in a web of searchlights and flak. The deadly success of these missions and the fear that permeated the targeted German ground forces led Hitler to offer a special medal to anyone who shot down a Po-2. For the Soviet cause, the female pilots were heroines; to the Germans they were the Nachthexen, the Night Witches. For tickets to attend this special event, you can register online or contact the museum's education department at (619) 234-8291, ext. 19.