588th Night Bomber Regiment (Night Witches)

August 28, 2019

 

“The Night Witches” was the nickname the Germans gave the female aviators of the Soviet Union’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment during World War Two. In October 1941 Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin ordered that three woman’s air force units were to be formed, including the 588th. The regiment, formed by Major Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokiya Bershanskaya, was made up primarily of female volunteers in their late teens and early twenties.[1] The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war. At its highest point, it had 80 women.                                                                                                             

The regiment flew over 23,000 forays, dropping over 3,000 tons of explosive and 26,000 incendiary shells.  It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, with many pilots flying over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.[2]The Nazis feared and hated them so much that any German airman who downed one was automatically awarded the prominent Iron Cross medal. The Germans nicknamed them the Nachthexen, or “night witches,” because the whooshing noise their wooden planes made resembled that of a sweeping broom. That sound was the only warning the Germans had. The planes were too small to show up on radar or on infrared locators.[3]                                                                                                                                                         
The Night Witches flew primarily at night, making do with planes that were available: planes that were made mostly of plywood and canvas, normally reserved for training and crop-dusting. They often operated in stealth mode, idling their engines as they neared their targets and then gliding their way to their bombing targets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Garber, Megan. “Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II.” The Atlantic, July 15, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/night-witches-the-female-fighter-pilots-of-world-war-ii/277779/ (Accessed July 6, 2019). 

 

[2] Holland, Brynn. “Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis by Night.” History.com, July 7, 2017. https://www.history.com/news/meet-the-night-witches-the-daring-female-pilots-who-bombed-nazis-by-night (Accessed July 6, 2019).

 

[3] Garber. “Night Witches.”

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