Seriously, I got chills reading their stories.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum courtesy of Marion Pritchard
Nancy Wake (1912-2011)
Nancy Wake loved a good drink and French men — and did not like killing people. Except for, well…Nazis . One of her numerous accomplishments during World War II? Killing a German sentry with her bare hands. Wake's ability to evade capture earned her the nickname “the white mouse” from the German military. In a 2001 interview, she said, “I was not a very nice person, and it didn’t put me off my breakfast.”
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Nadezhda Popova (1921-2013)
Popova (above, left) was just 19 years old when she became a pilot; she was motivated by revenge after her brother was killed by Nazis in 1941. She flew 852 missions (!!!) as one of the Soviet Union's “Night Witches” (the name the Germans gave to the female pilots who dropped bombs from plywood and canvas planes that made a whooshing sound as they flew through the night). According to the New York Times, the Night Witches flew only in the dark and “had no parachutes, guns, radios or radar, only maps and compasses. If hit by tracer bullets, their planes would burn like sheets of paper.” The women would sometimes fly as many as 18 missions in a single night, and Popova said they flew through enemy fire almost every time. (One time, she said, she counted 42 bullet holes in her plane. FORTY. TWO.)
The Night Witches were so deadly — dropping 23,000 tons of bombs (from PLYWOOD PLANES!!!!) on Nazis over the course four years — that any German who took down one of their planes was awarded an Iron Cross. But their missions were dangerous and difficult. “When the wind was strong it would toss the plane. In winter when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying,” Popova said. “If you give up, nothing is done and you are not a hero. Those who gave in were gunned down and they were burned alive in their craft as they had no parachutes.”
Popova's planes were actually shot down multiple times, but she always survived, and she later became deputy commander of 588th Night Bomber Regiment. Seriously, her entire obituary is worth a read; it gave me chills.
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