Operation Barbarossa

Photo of the Day

?The Night Witches? of the 588th taking a break. Standing looking at the camera is Nadezhda Popova, one of the most highly-decorated and highly publicized of the 588th aviators.

The Wickedest Night Flying Witches

Members of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment decorated their planes with flowers … and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs

The flying ?Night Witches? of World War II gained the nickname from an adversary, out of respect for their bravery and lethal sneak attacks. Moral of the story: never sell a female pilot short.

The Nazis called them ?Night Witches? because the whooshing noise their plywood and canvas airplanes made reminded the Germans of the sound of a witch?s broomstick.

The Russian women who piloted those planes, onetime crop dusters, took it as a compliment. In 30,000 missions over four years, they dumped 23,000 tons of bombs on the German invaders, ultimately helping to chase them back to Berlin. Any German pilot who downed a ?witch? was awarded an Iron Cross.

These young heroines, all volunteers and most in their teens and early 20s, became legends of World War II but are now largely forgotten. Flying only in the dark, they had no parachutes, guns, radios or radar, only maps and compasses. If hit by tracer bullets, their planes would burn like sheets of paper.

Their uniforms were hand-me-downs from male pilots. Their faces froze in the open cockpits. Each night, the 40 or so two-woman crews flew eight or more missions ? sometimes many more.

At the time Russian men and women were fighting and dying for their country that had been treacherously attacked by Hitler’s Germany. Russia at that period possessed the most powerful and ruthless army the world had ever seen.

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Photo of the Day

The diary of Tanya Savicheva, a girl of 11, her notes about starvation and deaths of her sister, then grandmother, then brother, then uncle, then another uncle, then mother. The last three notes say “Savichevs died”, “Everyone died” and “Only Tanya is left.” She died of progressive dystrophy shortly after the siege. Her diary was shown at the Nuremberg trials.

The Siege of Leningrad

When Germans encircled Leningrad they planned to quickly freeze and starve the city. They had no idea the devastation and horror that the people of Leningrad would be willing to endure without ever giving in. The siege is one of the longest in history and one of the deadliest as well.

Leningrad, the old imperial capital, was the most beautiful city in Russia and had for centuries been her cultural heartland. Founded as Czar Peter the Great?s window on the West, it had known many agonies throughout its turbulent history, but in 1941 geography and pragmatic military strategy would see Leningrad engulfed in a tragedy unparalleled in modern history.

With most of Europe already under the heel of Nazi Germany, Hitler turned his attention eastward toward the vast expanse of the Soviet Union and on the morning of June 22, 1941, launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. Spearheaded by three Army groups, German forces stormed across the Russian frontier and completely overwhelmed the Red Army units in their path. With clinical precision, the world?s largest army was being systematically annihilated and, after just 18 days of fighting, the Russians had lost over three million men, 6,000 tanks, and most of their aircraft.

Germany and her allies attempted to strangle the life out of the historic Soviet city of Leningrad – the heart of the Russian Revolution

It would be no exaggeration to say that the family of every native citizen of St. Petersburg was touched by the blockade, which lasted almost 900 days, from September, 1941 to January, 1944. During that time nearly a third of the population at the siege?s beginning, starved to death. Roughly one in three. Many of them in the streets.

Few people outside realised what the siege was like. For years afterwards Stalin kept?people in the dark. Deaths were underestimated. Its party leaders were purged. For decades, details of the blockade have been little known in the West. Stalin suppressed the facts of the siege and twisted its history.

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