“Night witches”, 1942

Yevdokia-Bershanskaya-commander-of-the-46th-Taman-Guards-Night-Bomber-Aviation-Regiment-instructs-the-crew-Yevdokia-Nosal-and-Nina-Ulyanenko-Po-2-1942-Polikarpov.jpg

Командир полка Е. Д. Бершанская даёт указания экипажу Евдокии Носаль и Нины Ульяненко. 1942 г.

Yevdokia Bershanskaya, commander of the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, instructs the crew – Yevdokia Nosal and Nina Ulyanenko, 1942

As soon as a U-2 landed it was immediately refuelled, armed, and was again ready to fly. Every night until dawn Major Bershanskaya was at the start to see off the little planes setting out one by one into the night, and she was there to meet them when they landed at an area marked out by a glowing letter “T”. She hid her fears for her cadets behind a barrier of severity and a stern, impassive expression.
Bershanskaya herself had many thousands of hours of flying experience, both daytime and night-time, and was used to flying blind by instruments. At the Bataisk Aviation College she had been the commander of a flight of women pilots. She worked there for some years as an instructor, later becoming a pilot on civil airlines. Her path to becoming a pilot had been as thorny as those of most of her cadets. Bershanskaya was twenty-eight years old in 1941 and had grown up in the terrible era of the Russian Civil War. Once as a little girl she had to sit all night next to the corpse of her mother, comforting her little brother. They were lucky that, a few days later, her uncle appeared and took them back to his family where they grew up in great hardship but surrounded by love. One day when the little girl was running around the school playground with other children she heard a high-pitched young voice shout, “Look, it’s an aeroplane!” The plane flew over the village, and began to descend precipitately. When the children, completely out of breath, reached the aircraft, a young freckled boy who looked exactly like any villager was standing next to it, stretching his stiff legs, squatting and jumping up and down. As she gazed at him, the young Yevdokia suddenly realised that the mystery of flight was open even for completely ordinary people. She decided there and then that she too would be a pilot. There was no talking her out of it. Yevdokia graduated from a flying club, then the Bataisk Aviation College.
Raskova had long been acquainted with Bershanskaya, and she was one of the first women to be invited to join 122 Air Group. Needless to say, when she turned up Bershanskaya demanded to be retrained as a fighter pilot, and was upset to be told she would be in command of the night bomber regiment. She would have much preferred to be a fighter pilot, but when she received the order she set to work without protest. Her little son from a failed marriage to a pilot called Bershansky stayed in the rear with his grandmother. By the end of the war she was married to Bocharov, the colonel in charge of a U-2 regiment alongside which the women’s night-bomber regiment spent the entire war.
(Defending the Motherland: The Soviet Women Who Fought Hitler’s Aces
Lyuba Vinogradova)

Yevdokia-Bershanskaya-commander-of-the-46th-Taman-Guards-Night-Bomber-Aviation-Regiment-instructs-the-crew-Yevdokia-Nosal-and-Nina-Ulyanenko-Po-2-1942-Polikarpov-bw.jpg

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