Poltava Air & Space Museum
This article presents combat activity of Natalia Meklin (Kravtsova) in the context
of women’s experiences of the war. She was a pilot of the 46th Guards Night
Bombing Regiment, the so called «night witches». This group of Soviet Air Forces
from 1942 to the end of World War II bombarded enemy’s territories. “Night witches”
carried out almost 24,000 combat missions during the war, and threw over
3 thousand tons of bombs.
While the main role of women during the First World War (1914–1918) was
to work in ammunition factories, in agriculture and replace recruited men on their
workplace, with the beginning of World War II, millions of women got involved
in combat activities. Some of them, especially in the Soviet Union, Germany and
Great Britain, served in anti-aircraft units, where they shot down enemy bombers,
scouted, translated, etc. Women-engineers participated in creating military aircraft.
Women-pilots, more than others, defied traditional beliefs about what a woman
can do on a war.
Born on September 8, 1922 in the city of Lubny of Poltava region, Natalia Meklin
graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute in 1941, a year after finishing
10th grade of school. In October same year, she applied to join the 588th Night
Bomber Regiment, founded by Marina Raskova. In 1942, after graduating from
Engels Military Aviation School, Meklin was sent to the Eastern Front of World
War II. At the age of 19 she was appointed squadron commander. She commanded
bombardments in the Southern, Northern Caucasus, 4th Ukrainian and 2nd Belarussian
fronts from a light bomber designed by Polikarpov Po-2. By the end of
the war, she made 982 night flights and dropped about 147 tons of bombs on a
territory under enemy control. On February 23, 1945, lieutenant Natalya Meklin
(Kravtsova) was awarded the title of Soviet Hero. Since after, for military service,
courage and pilot skills she was awarded many times. In October 1945, Natalia
Meklin became a reserve officer.
In 1947, she completed two yearly courses at Moscow State University, and
returned to military service. From 1948 to 1957 Natalia studied at the Military
Institute of Foreign Languages and subsequently worked as an interpreter until
retirement. In 1972, she became a member of the Writers’ Union. Natalia Meklin
(Kravtsova) wrote about 10 books about the war and about brave female pilots
at the front. She also co-authored the book with her colleague from the regiment
Irina Rakobolskaya «We were called night witches», they recalled combat
and the life experiences of female pilots during the war. On 5 June 2005, she died in Moscow and was buried in Troekurovskoe Cemetery.
Women-pilots, as well as women in other kinds of military, were many. Each
of them has left its own imprint in history. Studying their experiences is important,
because it helps to understand that war was not homogeneous. Understanding
the real situation of women in war can help to avoid future conflicts.
Keywords: army, war, women, 46th Guards Night Bombing Regiment, pilot,
«night witch», Natalia Meklin, Poltava region.