Instrument of the Famous “Night Witches” – The Versatile Soviet U2/Po-2 with 20 Photos

U-2 in flight

U-2 or Po-2 was a multi-purpose Soviet biplane developed by the Soviet aircraft designer Nikolai Polikarpov in 1927. It is one of the most massively produced aircraft in the world. In colloquial speech, this aircraft was called “Кукурузник“(agricultural airplane). The fact is that during raids of enemy aircraft during the Second World War, due to their compact size, these aircraft were often hidden in thickets of corn.

A portrait of Nikolai Polikarpov.

During production, the aircraft was repeatedly improved. The U-2 had a five-cylinder M-11D engine with a maximum output of 125 hp. The 125-liter petrol tank provided a range of 350-400 kilometers. The maximum speed was 130-150 km/h, and the maximum altitude was 3800 meters. For take-off, it only required 100 to 150 meters of runway.

A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 169-0112 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The U-2 had a wide range of applications in different areas. Many modifications were made on the aircraft. The main modification was for training civilian pilots, but after it, planes began to appear for agriculture, combat training, transport for the wounded, cargo transportation and night bombers.

The popularity of the U-2 was in its simple repair and cheapness of construction. Easy control of the plane was available even for inexperienced pilots. However, it could not withstand any significant enemy fire. For this reason, the U-2 was often operated at night. During the Great Patriotic War, U-2 night bombers dropped about 3 million bombs on the Germans. The main ammunition was a high-explosive bomb FAB-50 and FAB-100.

Polikarpov Po-2 Kukuruznik. By Jan Rehschuh / CC BY-SA 3.0

The U-2 production continued mass production until 1953. It was carried out at several plants, including plants in Poland. About 33,000 copies were produced. However, some sources indicate 40,000 units.

In 1930, U-2 aircraft were taken into service in the USSR Air Force. In 1938, ambulance planes took part in the battles on Lake Khasan and sanitary modifications were used to evacuate wounded soldiers.

A wounded Russian soldier being loaded onto a U-2 / Po-2 Kukuruznik ambulance plane by nurses

During the Great Patriotic War (World War II in the Soviet Union), about 3,500 U-2 aircraft were used. The most significant contribution they made were performing the role of a night bomber. The renewed design of the U-2 allowed carrying bombs weighing from 100 to 300 kg.

The famed “Night Witches”, a group of female pilots that performed night bombing raids on German positions, used the U2/Po-2. U-2 planes were part of the 46th female guard’s night bomber air regiment.  During the war, 23 of the women who fought on the U-2 received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.

The Luftwaffe command called the plane “Руссфанер“(Russian plywood) and gave awards for each downed aircraft. During the war, with the help of this aircraft, food, medicine and ammunition were delivered to partisan groups much like the Lysander in the Western Theater.


U-2 biplane trainers in flight

In addition, the U-2 took part in the war in Korea in 1950-1953. Night bombers in North Korea took an active part until the very end of the war.

Polikarpov Po-2 replica. By Alan Wilson -CC BY-SA 2.0


Po2 with Crew


A downed Po-2 in 1941


A Po-2 loaded with bombs getting reading to go on a mission.


The Po-2 Kukuruzi ambulance


Polikarpov U-2LNB light bomber in markings of the Polish aviation
By Michał Derela CC BY-SA 3.0


Polikarpov Po-2 with Yugoslav markings. By Marko M / CC BY-SA 3.0


Pilot next to a Po-2


Po-2 with Skis for landing in the snow


Po-2 Soviet biplane


A female pilot prepares for a mission in her Po-2


Pilot from the 26th Female Aviation Regiment in the U-2SP


Po-2 in the air and IL-2 on the ground.


Soviet Pilots of the 46th Female Aviation Regiment in front of a Po-2


U-2 in flight

Read another story from us: When the Soviets Shot Down A U-2 Spyplane, The Cold War Turned Hot

U-2 SP with Pilots preflight check
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