A few more than 1,100 young women, all civilian volunteers, flew almost every type of military aircraft — including the B-26 and B-29 bombers — as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting — with live ammunition.
Just recently, PBS had a documentary on the woman who refused to go home after the war, and continued on her quest to fly. Her name was Margaret Ray Ringenberg, better known as Maggie. She logged more than 40,000 hours of flight time, an astounding feat. Tom Brokaw included an entire chapter of his book “the Greatest Generation” just on her. It was because of his book that people took up the cause to get her and the other WASP’s the long overdue recognition they deserved. Maggie went on to become an aviator instructor and commercial pilot and held many racing titles. At the age of 72, she completed the Round-the-World Air Race in 1994 and in March 2001, at the age of 79, she flew in a race from London to Sydney.
They weren’t granted military status until the 1970s. 65 years after their service, they received the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress. President Obama signed a bill awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal.
Night Witches, Fierce-Feared-Female WWII Pilots
One of these “night witches” said in an interview years later, that the reason she signed up was when she watched her fellow country folks get machine gunned down by Nazi planes while fleeing their homes. The links are full of the bravery they displayed, beginning with the planes they were given to fly….old rickety crop-duster biplanes, which were silent, flew low and got in and out fast. Chaos for the Germans resulted and when they learned of the pilots involved, they gave them the name “night witches.” The Germans had two theories about why these women were so successful: They were all criminals who were masters at stealing and had been sent to the front line as punishment—or they had been given special injections that allowed them to see in the night.
After the war they were given zero recognition because their “planes were too slow.” They were almost lost to history. They were the only country to officially put women into combat. They were given men’s hand-me-down uniforms and boots….and planes.
Thanks to New York Times best-selling author Kate Quinn, their story is being revived. Quinn’s historical novel “The Huntress,” recently published, highlights the exploits of the Night Witches and has been heavily promoted on social media.
“It’s quite astounding when you’re looking at a picture of this Russian babushka,” Quinn said, “and she’s saying something about ‘Oh yes, you know, when the bomb gets stuck on the rack you just climb out on the wing at a thousand meters and, you know, you just lay flat and you give it a push.’”
Quinn’s assessment of their tenacity: “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.” Desperate times calls for desperate measures.
Quinn came across their story while doing google searches for possible story lines and relied, in part, on a collection of interviews with real Night Witches titled “A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II.”