The Explainer General
Russian pilot Marina Raskova was famous for her long-distance flying records. In WW II, she gathered the Soviet Army’s first female pilots into the 588th Women’s Night Bombardment Regiment. They wore hand-me-down pilots’ uniforms and, even worse, they had to cut their long hair to a regulation two inches.
Major Raskova worried about her girls. “Don’t you know the Germans will shoot at you?” she asked her new regiment. A woman yelled from the back, “Not if we shoot them first, Major Raskova!”
They flew Polikarpov U-2’s, fabric-covered wood and wire biplanes. The only way they could carry a load of six 50 pound bombs was to leave the weight of their parachutes behind.
They attacked in threes, cutting their engines and gliding down over German camps before dropping the bombs, only restarting their engines to head for home. The sleepless ground soldiers were especially upset when they learned that they were being bombed by women! The gliding whoosh just before the bombs reminded Germans of broom-sweeping, so they called them Nachthexen, “night witches.”
A German captain said, “We simply couldn't grasp that the Soviet airmen that caused us the greatest trouble were in fact women. These women feared nothing. They … wouldn't give us any sleep at all.”
The Luftwaffe was ordered to shoot the Night Witches down. Not easily done. The PoU2s flew slower than German fighters could fly without crashing. The cloth-and-wood biplanes didn’t appear clearly on radar, and they could maneuver more quickly than fast fighters.
Ground troops surrounded their camps with searchlights and antiaircraft cannon but the Witches outwitted them. Two PoU2s roared in under power to attract the searchlights and cannon, then separated, turning and jinking to escape, while the third biplane glided in quietly— bombs away! The Witches would join up and switch places until all three Witches had dropped their loads. They were persistent witches: they sometimes flew 18 missions every night.
Twenty-three of the brave women of the 588th received the USSR’s highest medal: Hero of the Soviet Union. A more tender award of flowers was given to them by admiring Free French pilots who flew from their airfields. The French pilots said:
Even if it were possible to gather and place at your feet all the flowers on earth, this would not constitute sufficient tribute to your valour
Jan Adkins is a superb storyteller as well as a talented illustrator and he is now available for classroom visits throughout the country. He is a member of INK's Authors on Call which uses Field Trip Zoom, a technology that requires only a computer, wifi, a webcam, and a roomful of enthusiastic children. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Night Witches: Dangerous Women." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 24 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Way, way back in the year 111 BCE (Before our Common Era), thousands of Chinese warriors armed with fine iron swords and lethal crossbows, rode and marched south to conquer the little kingdom of Nanyue. To the people living there, the little kingdom was Nam Viet. To us, faraway in their unimaginable future, their land is northern Vietnam.
After the invaders came all sorts of Chinese colonizers. They would build roads and temples plus new trading ports on Nanyue’s coast, where the Red River empties into the South China Sea perfect for China’s merchant ships, on their way to or just returned from India. The Chinese brought their culture, language, and top-down style of government too. It would all be for the glory (and increased wealth) of the empire and for the betterment of the conquered barbarians. You’d think they’d appreciate it!
Not necessarily. Over the next thousand years or so, the ancient Vietnamese would get fed up with their heavy taxes and harsh treatment. They’d rise up more than once to challenge their Chinese overlords. One particular revolt would inspire stories ever after. It took place around the years 39-43 CE. Who led this famous revolt? Two daughters of a military ruler; they lived in the vicinity of the modern city of Hanoi.
The women of ancient Vietnam enjoyed much more social equality than Chinese women. Females worked in business, as public officials and they could inherit property. They could become proficient in the martial arts, as did Trung Hac and her younger sister, Trung Nhi. With their knowledge of armor and swords and with their fury, they raised up an army of 80,000 soldiers! Other women, including their mother, were generals, mounted on war elephants at the head of the Trung Sisters’ army! They liberated fortresses, battled the Chinese, and drove them out of Vietnam!
Alas, this is not the end of the Legend of the Trung Sisters. The warriors of wealthier, more powerful China returned to defeat them in the year 43. And rather than surrender, the sisters took what was for them the more honorable action: They took their own lives. Some stories say they drowned themselves in a river. Some say they disappeared into the clouds. Whatever did happen, the Trung Sisters are remembered in plays, poems, and songs to this very day, as Heroines of Vietnam.
Even though the Trưng Sisters' revolt against the Chinese was almost 2,000 years ago, its legacy in Vietnam remains as they are seen as symbols of Vietnamese resistance and freedom. To this day, the people of Vietnam perform memorial ceremonies for the sisters every year at a Hanoi temple named for them. This is a statue of the Trung sisters in Ho Chi Minh City.
In a 1776 letter cautioning her husband to "remember the ladies," Abigail Adams made one of the earliest pleas for women's rights in America. How could she have known, in the years to follow, just how many strong and independent women would step forward to forge new paths in their fight for equality?
From Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman to the less well-known but equally important Belva Lockwood and Maya Ying Lin, Remember the Ladies spans the centuries to provide an engaging look at one hundred outstanding women who have helped shape our great nation. Click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Real Life Legendary Trung Sisters of Ancient Vietnam."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 22 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
On November 3, 1957, a tiny capsule rocketed into space. Inside was a diminutive, 14-pound, black and white dog named Laika. And when her spaceship pierced the Earth’s atmosphere, she became the first creature in history to make it to outer space. No small feat for a stray that only days before had been fighting for scraps on the streets of Moscow!
Laika’s unlikely journey was borne out of the race to prove that human spaceflight was possible. Just a month earlier, on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union—Cold War nemesis of the United States—launched into orbit history’s first satellite, Sputnik 1. That’s when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev insisted that his scientists perform a second test—this time to determine if a living being could survive the journey to the stars.
The mission was too dangerous to risk a human life, so the Soviets decided to train a stray dog to be Russia’s first cosmonaut. Nine days before the scheduled launch, they chose Laika for her gentle disposition and natural beauty. If she was to make history, they reasoned, she would need to be photogenic.
Laika did make history. Monitors followed the sound of her tiny beating heart all the way into Earth’s orbit. But there was a problem: the Soviets had not worked out how to get Laika back. She perished, circling the earth, most likely from the profound heat created by the capsule’s firing rockets.
Laika’s journey sparked not one but two historic advances: the era of human space exploration, and the animal rights movement, particularly in scientific testing. She became a global folk hero. Her sacrifice inspired poems and novels. She was featured on stamps and coins, and memorialized in a Moscow statue. Her fame ensured that going forward efforts would be made to protect the lives of canine cosmonauts.
Sure enough, on August 19, 1960, two more Moscow strays, Belka and Strelka, became the first living creatures to make the round trip to space.
Laika the Soviet Space Dog will always be remembered as the first living being to boldly go where no one had gone before. Laika was a pioneer for humanity.
Sarah Towle is an award-winning digital storyteller of immersive tales for educational tourism. With her latest project for secondary school students—the History Hero BLAST—she puts the Story back in History, bringing a fictional flair to factual tales of inspirational figures from around the world and throughout time. A blog and future podcast, the HHBLAST welcomes the participation of published and aspiring authors, including young writers. Click here to find out more about how to bring the HHBLAST—and Sarah—to your school!
Nonfiction is the new black
Nearly everyone is familiar with Thomas Edison, born [February 11] day in 1847.
When Thomas started school, his teacher called him “addled,” and he soon dropped out. His mother home-schooled him for several years. He began his entrepreneurial career when he was 12, publishing his own newspaper and selling it on the train. A few years later, he became a telegrapher and started tinkering in his spare time. He made many improvements to telegraphy and eventually turned to inventing full-time in his New Jersey workshop.
He was amazingly persistent. He explained that “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration,” “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work,” and “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” As a result of his persistence, he received more than 2,000 patents worldwide. These patents included the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and the movie camera. He became one of the most famous Americans of his era. When he died in 1931, light bulbs around the world were briefly dimmed or turned off.
There’s another, lesser-known side of Edison however. He was a ruthless businessman. One of the most notable examples involved the movie camera. Soon after inventing it, he established a company called Edison Studios in New Jersey. The building was set on rollers to follow the sun’s path across the sky. In 1894, his 5-second film “Fred Ott’s Sneeze” became the first-ever copyrighted motion picture. Audiences loved this new technology and flocked to theatres. To meet the demand, many other small moviemaking companies sprang up.
Edison hated the competition. In 1898, he began filing lawsuits to force them out of business. When that didn’t work, he organized the Motion Picture Patents Company, a group of 10 film companies headed by Edison Studios. The Patents Company continued the court battles. Presumably with Edison’s approval, it sometimes hired thugs who broke into rival studios and ransacked them.
Not surprisingly, many of Edison’s victims wanted to get as far away as they could. They headed for southern California, on the other side of the country. Side benefits were generally better weather that allowed year-round filming, a variety of terrain features, and cheap land and labor. Many of the newcomers established their offices in a tiny village near Los Angeles called Hollywood—the name now synonymous with the movie industry.
Click! The lights come on, and it seems like the most natural thing in the world. But without science, you’d be left in the dark. Jim Whiting's The Science of Lighting a City takes a closer look at the amazing places that Edison's invention of the light bulb has led.
Whiting, Jim. "Thomas Edison: Cutthroat Businessman." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 21 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Here's a reminder for our day off on Monday to observe Memorial Day. Take a moment to think about those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The posts for the rest of the week follow.