Once a month I plan to feature an article on a woman warrior. This month I will be focusing on all of the women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment.
During WWII the Russian military created an all-female bomber regiment. The 588th Night Bomber Regiment, later the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.
The women became so feared the Germans started calling them Nachthexen, which translates to Night Witches.
The women flew outdated wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes that were normally used for training missions and crop dusting. Each plane could only carry a two bomb payload. Since they were limited to two bombs the women had to pilot multiple bombing missions each night. Some nights a female crew of two might fly greater than 8 missions over enemy territory. In order to keep the planes in the air the ground crews, all women as well, had to work around the clock.
They became very crafty about the tactics they implemented.
The pilots would routinely turn off their engines while making bomb runs. Once the bombs were released they would restart the engines and climb away from the ground. The Po-2’s top speed was around 82 knots, far slower than the enemy interceptors at the time. The crafty aviators used the speed differential to their advantage. They would wait until the enemy was on top of them and then turn the slower more maneuverable aircraft out of the gun range. The women were also known for flying so low to the ground that hedge rows would hide them from sight.
The biggest threat to the Po-2 was the Germans use of spotlights and flak guns.
To overcome anti-aircraft fire the Night Witches would fly in groups of three aircraft. The first two planes would fly through the spotlights drawing all of the enemy fire. While the gunners were distracted, the third aircraft would sneak through the unlit areas of the sky and accomplish the bomb run.
All told, the women flew over 30,000 sorties and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs two at a time. By the time the war was over most women had flown over 1,000 missions and 23 were award the title Hero of the Soviet Union. Of the approximately 40 two person crews 31 aviators died in combat.
These inspiring women proved to be exceptional military pilots and won the respect of their male counterparts. They not only served their country, but started building a foundation for the future of females in aviation. It is for these reasons, and many more as a female aviator, I honor the Night Witches of the 588th Regiment with my first woman warrior article.
“Only Girls Go To Battle” : A Russian WWII documentary