The Night Witches flew ancient Polikarpov po-2 bi-planes that were equipped with no guns or parachutes and were only able to carry two bombs at a time.

It’s not Halloween, but I did recently find out about an extraordinary group of women, nicknamed ‘Nachthexen’, which translates to ‘Night Witches’. The Night Witches were a group of Russian pilots who flew in the 588th Night Bomber Regiment during the Second World War.

This regiment was formed in 1941 when Germany invaded Russia. During that summer, Marina Raskova, a female aviation pioneer, was called upon the task to organise a group of women to participate in a series of harassment bombing raids during the night over Germany; this included every job role from pilot to mechanics to navigators who were all women. These young women who were aged from 17 to 26 began their training in a small town called Engels and were ready for the first mission on the 8th June 1942. There was no fancy uniforms for them like the American and British Women had but huge, bulky men’s uniforms, boots that were far too big and short masculine haircuts. However, it wasn’t just the old uniforms they had to wear but also the planes were completely outdated too for the type of war that was being conducted. These planes had no armour, were made of wood and had open cockpits! But despite all those setbacks, their first mission was a success although one plane was fired down. The brilliant genius of these raids were that they were completely silent just before they started bombing which gave them a cunning advantage.

The “swooshing” noise of the planes just as they reached the target is what gave the 588th Night Bomber Regiment their nickname, The Night Witches terrified the Germans who believed that the Soviets were feeding these women pills that gave them the night vision of cats. Of course this wasn’t the truth, as later told by Nadezhda Popova, a very successful Night Witch, who said, “This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls.”

Throughout the Second World War the Night Witches flew about 30,000 bombing raids and lost just 30 pilots. They were so successful during the war that they were not disbanded after when it ended and were renamed and continued to fly missions for the Soviets in the Cold War.

For more information about these brilliant women please have a look at this website.

-Charleigh Powell
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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