Tag Archives: Marina Mikailovna Raskova

Guards Lieutenant Natalya Fedorovna Meklin, Hero of the Soviet Union

Guards Lieutenant Natalya Fedorovna Meklin, Hero of the Soviet Union. (Colorized by Olga Shirnina: “Color by Klimbim”)

23 February 1945: Guards Lieutenant Natalya Fedorovna Meklin, a senior pilot with the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, 325th Night Bomber Aviation Division, 4th Air Army, was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union by decree of the Supreme Soviet of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was in acknowledgement of the 840 combat missions that Lieutenant Meklin had flown to date. She was also awarded the Order of Lenin with Gold Star. The medals were presented to her by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky, 8 March 1945, while she was on duty in Poland. By the end of The Great Patriotic War, she had flown 982 combat sorties.

Natalya Fedorovna Meklin, circa 1940

Natalya Fedorovna Meklin was born 8 September 1922, at Lubny, Poltava, Ukraine. As a teenager, she attended High School No. 79 in Kiev, where she participated in gymnastics and competitive small-bore rifle and pistol shooting. She graduated in 1940.

Following high school, Natalya Fedorovna learned to fly at the Kiev Young Pioneer Palace glider school. In 1941 she went to the Moscow Aviation Institute. During July and August the students were sent to Bryansk to dig tank traps as defense against the Nazi invasion.

Inspired by famed Soviet pilot Marina Mikailovna Raskova, in October 1941 Natalya Fedorovna joined the women’s aviation regiments being formed by Raskova. She was sent to the Engels Military Aviation School, near Saratov, Russia, where she spent seven months in training as a pilot and navigator. Graduating in May 1942, Lieutenant Meklin was assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Aviation Regiment as chief of communications. The unit was then fighting on the southern Caucasian Front.

The women in the night bomber regiments made night attacks behind enemy lines flying the Polikarpov U-2 light bomber. They often approached their target at very low altitude and made gliding attacks. Their effect was to demoralize enemy soldiers and keep them awake. The Germans called them die Nacthexen (the Night Witches).

Lieutenant Meklin circa April 1943. She is wearing the Order of the Red Star and Order of the Patriotic War.

Lieutenant Meklin was awarded the Order of the Red Star on 19 October 1942. In 1943, she became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Comrade Melkin flew 380 combat sorties as a navigator, and was then assigned as a pilot.

In February 1943, the 588th Aviation Regiment was redesignated the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Unit. On 27 April 1943, Guards Lieutenant Meklin was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, Second Class.

The following year, 14 April 1944, Lieutenant Meklin was awarded the first of three Orders of the Red Banner. A second followed on 14 December 1944, and the third, 15 June 1945.

Following The Great Patriotic War, Lieutenant Meklin’s status became that of a reserve officer. For the next two years, she studies at Moscow University, then in 1947, returned to active duty. She rose to the rank of major. She attended the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, graduating in 1953, and served as a translator in the 6th Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, where she was involved in the development of proposals for the production of various types of nuclear weapons, and preparation and coordination of tactical and technical requirements of nuclear weapons.

In January 1956, Major Meklin married  Yuri Fedorovich Kravtsov, and she assumed the name Kravtsova.

Major Natalya F. Kravtsova retired from the Air Force in September 1957. She was employed as a supervising editor at the Publishing House of Military Technical Literature in 1960, and then in 1961 as a translator/editor inn the Bureau of Foreign Military Literature.

On 11 March 1985, Natalya Fedorovna was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, First Class.

Natalya Fedorovna Kravtsova with her son, circa 1960.

Comrade Kravtsova was the author of many articles and books, the last being We Were Called Night Witches (published in 2005).

Natalya Fedorovna Kravtsova, Hero of the Soviet Union, died 5 June 2005, in Moscow. Her remains were interred at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery in Moscow.

Three-view illustration with dimensions in millimeters. (Самолет У-2 manual)
Михаи́л Миха́йлович Гро́мов

The Самолет У-2 (Airplane U-2) was designed by Nikolai Nikolaevich Poliparkov as a basic trainer. It made its first flight 7 January 1928 with test pilot M.M. Gromov. The airplane was produced in two- and three-place variants, some with an enclosed rear cabin. A float plane was also built.

Airplane U-2 was a single-engine, single bay biplane, constructed of a wire-braced wood framework, covered with fabric. There were ailerons on upper and lower wings. It was 8.170 meters (26 feet, 9.7 inches) long, with an upper wing span of 11.400 meters (37 feet, 4.8 inches), and lower span of 10.654 meters (34 feet, 10.9 inches). The wings’ chord was 1.650 meters (5 feet, 5 inches). The vertical gap between wings was 1.777 meters (5 feet, 10 inches), and the lower wing was staggered 0.800 meters (2 feet, 7.5 inches) behind the upper wing. The wings had 2° dihedral, and an angle of incidence of 2° 20′.

The U-2 was powered by a normally-aspirated, air-cooled, 8.590 liter (524.212-cubic-inch-displacement) Shvetsov M-11 five-cylinder radial engine, driving a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The engine produced 90 horsepower at 1,520–1,560 r.p.m.; 100 horsepower from 1,580–1,600 r.p.m.; and a maximum 110 horsepower at 1,650–1,670 r.p.m. The M-11 weighed 165 kilograms (364 pounds).

The U-2 was first armed in 1941. It could carry 350 kilograms (771 pounds) of bombs. A single 7.62×54mmR Shpitalny-Komaritskie (ShKAS) revolver machine gun was mounted in the rear cockpit.

The U-2 was redesignated Polikarpov Po-2 following the War. It was in production from 1928 to 1952. Sources vary as to the number built, ranging from 20,000 to 40,000.

Группа легких бомбардировщиков У-2 271-й ночной бомбардировочной авиационной дивизии летит на задание (“A group of U-2 light bombers of the 271st Night Bomber Aviation Division is flying on a mission.”)

© 2021, Bryan R. Swopes

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24–25 September 1938

World Record Aviators with Antonov ANT 37 Rodina
From left to right, Polina Osipenko, Valentine Grizodubova and Marina Raskova, with the record-setting Tupolev ANT-37, Rodina
Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), 1938

24–25 September 1938: Valentina Stepanovna Grizodubova (Валентина Степановна Гризодубова), Polina Denisovna Osipenko (Полина Денисовна Осипенко) and Marina Mikailovna Raskova (Марина Mихайловна Раскова) set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Distance in a Straight Line Without Landing when they flew a twin-engine Tupolev ANT-37 named Rodina from Tchelcovo, an airport near Moscow, Russia, to the River Amgun, Khabarovsk Krai, in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The distance was 5,908.61 kilometers (3,671.44 miles).¹ The duration of the flight was 26 hours, 29 minutes.

The planned flight was from Moscow to Komsomolsk-on-Amur. In adverse weather conditions, they missed the airfield at Komsomolsk, and out of fuel, crash landed in a forest near the Sea of Okhotsk. Raskova was ordered to bail out of the airplane to avoid being injured, and she wandered for ten days before she located the crashed ANT-37. The other two remained with the ANT-37 and survived the landing. They waited by the wreck for Raskova to arrive. All three were made Heroes of the Soviet Union.

Polina Denisovna Osipenko, hero of the Soviet Union.

The three women were all highly experienced aviators and each held multiple world records. (Grizodubova held one FAI altitude record, two distance and three speed; Osipenko held three distance and three altitude records; and Raskova was a navigator on two distance record flights.)

Polina Osipenko was killed in an airplane accident in 1939. Marina Raskova died when her bomber crashed in 1943. She received the first state funeral of the war. Valentina Grizodubova survived World War II and then served on a commission investigating Nazi war crimes.  She died at Moscow in 1993.

Марина Mихайловна Раскова, 1938

The Antonov ANT-37, given the military designation DB-2, was a prototype long range medium bomber designed and built at Tupolev OKB. The design team was led by Pavel Sukhoi.

Rodina, the airplane flown by Grizodubova, Osipenko and Raskova, was the first prototype ANT-37. It had crashed during testing 20 July 1935, but was rebuilt as the ANT-37 bis, or DB-2B. The nose section was modified and the engines and propellers upgraded, all military armament was removed and larger fuel tanks installed. It was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 2,359.97-cubic-inch-displacement (38.67 liter) Tumansky M-86 two-row, 14-cylinder radial engines. They were rated 950 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff and drove three-bladed, variable pitch propellers. (These engines were license-built versions of the Gnome et Rhône 14K Mistral Major.) The main landing gear was retracted by electric motors.

The airplane was operated by a crew of three. It was 15.00 meters (49 feet, 2.6 inches) long with a wingspan of 31.00 meters (101 feet, 8.5 inches). Its empty weight was 5,855 kilograms (12,908 pounds) and gross weight was 12,500 kilograms (27,558 pounds). The maximum speed was 300 kilometers per hour at 0 meters (186 miles per hour at Sea Level) and 342 kilometers per hour (212.5 miles per hour) at high altitude. The service ceiling was 8,000 meters (26, 247 feet).

Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.
Tupolev ANT-37 Rodina.

Rodina was repaired and operated by Aeroflot, then, until 1943, by the People’s Commissariat of Aircraft Industry.

¹ FAI Record File Number 10444

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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