Night Witches" waa World War IIGerman nickname for the women military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces.Though women were initially barred from combat, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin issued an order on October 8, 1941 to deploy three women's air force units, including the 588th regiment.The regiment, formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya, was made up entirely of women volunteers in their late teens and early twenties.
The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war.At its largest, it had 40 two-person crews. The regiment flew over 24,000 missions and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs.It was the most highly decorated all-women unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty of its members died in combat.
The regiment flew in wood-and-canvas Polikarpov Po-2biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop dusting, and to this day the most-produced wood-airframed biplane in aviation history. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so 8 or more missions per night were often necessary.Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches."Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.