Night Witches (200?)

This film might get made with or without Malcolm McDowell. It's waiting on funding.

News | Notes | History

News

Malcolm McDowell is to take the lead role in second world war epic Night Witches, which is due to go into production later this year. Based on the true story of a squadron of female fighter pilots, the film will mark the directing debut of McDowell's nephew, Alexander Siddig. His only previous experience behind the camera came while directing episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. McDowell, last seen in the well received British film, Gangster No.1, has just finished work on Dorian, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, due for release later in the year. - Guardian Unlimited 7/2/01

Notes

History

    In 1942 the Soviet Union formed three regiments of women combat pilots who flew night combat missions of harassment bombing. They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, that were otherwise used as trainers, and which could only carry 2 bombs that weighted less than a ton altogether. They were so successful and deadly the Germans feared them, calling them "Nachthexen" - night witches. (Some sources state that they were nicknamed "Night Witches" because it was made up entirely of female pilots and they flew their missions in the wooden Po-2's at night.)
    The Night Witches were the women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. All of the mechanics and bomb loaders of this regiment, as in the 586th IAP and the 587th Bomber Regiment, were also women.
    The Soviet women bomber pilots earned in total 23 Hero of the Soviet Union medals and dozens of Orders of the Red Banner. Two women bomber pilots, Katya Ryabova and Nadya Popova, in one night raided the Germans 18 times. The Po-2 pilots flew more than 24,000 sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. Most of the women bomber pilots who survived the war in 1945 had racked up nearly 1,000 missions each. They had served so exemplarily throughout the whole war that they participated in the final onslaught on Berlin.

Top Speed 94 mph-- Without Bombs
    With their buzzing 100-horsepower engines and their burden of explosives, the small Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes seemed to take forever to leave the ground.
    Nicknamed the "Flying Desk" for its boxy shape, the Po-2 was launched in 1928 as a training plane and had a top speed of 94 mph. That's without the bombs on board.
    "We were psychologically prepared to be killed," Deryabina said. "It was a tense situation all night. I told my co-pilot that no matter how terrible things got, to stay calm because I might need just one split second to do something to save our lives and if she shouted at me, we might lose that vital second."
    Once, as they narrowly avoided a head-on collision with one of their own planes, Deryabina's co-pilot did scream in terror. She later apologized profusely. When the plane got into trouble, there were no prayers - Deryabina was an atheist. But she carried photos of her father, brother and sister in her map case.
    The 46th Regiment was the only one of the three original regiments that remained an all-female force. Men joined the ranks of the other two regiments, which flew heavier fighters and bombers. The regiment's members were at first ridiculed by their male comrades. One air force regiment commander, Maj. I. Kleshchov, declared that it shamed Soviet manhood to see women engaged in the unwomanly business of war. More shaming perhaps was the fact that the men flew aluminum alloy planes with parachutes on board.
    "The men had the proper technical equipment," Deryabina pointed out. "They had gauges and buttons to push. They didn't have to pull this primitive wire to release the bombs. They had all the right gear."
    Life was staid and serious in the women's barracks. They flew all night, returned for breakfast and the 100-gram, or about 3-ounce, "front-line allowance" of vodka, then slept most of the day. The Night Witches were proud of the nickname, which they considered a reflection of Germans' fear of them. But with such notoriety, being taken prisoner was unthinkable. Once, her plane damaged, Deryabina lost altitude over enemy-held territory, barely managing to glide over the front line to Soviet turf. If she had been farther from the line, Deryabina would have crashed on purpose.
    "My co-pilot and I had agreed we'd never land on enemy territory. We decided better to crash the plane than be taken prisoner. A lot of us took that decision. You wouldn't want to be a Night Witch in captivity. We'd have been doomed to torture." Many of their missions involved bombing Russian villages and towns in Nazi-held territory. But Deryabina sternly pushed aside thoughts of the civilians who must have perished. It was a taboo subject the women never mentioned.
    "We didn't know if we killed civilians, and maybe it's easier on us that we did not know," she reflected. "Orders are orders." She repeated the line like a mantra, over and over. "Orders are orders." The women volunteered as bright-eyed, patriotic romantics. Many, like Deryabina, still look back on the war years as the best of their lives. Deryabina is a sprightly, optimistic figure who retains the vigor of her youth and a conviction that whatever bad things are said these days about Stalin, he was the greatest of them all, dwarfing later leaders such as Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Boris N. Yeltsin.
    When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, and with it its status as a great and powerful nation, she had nothing to believe in anymore. That left only one choice. "I needed something to replace my faith. I started to believe in God." - LA Times 2001

This format 2001-08 Alex D. Thawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net