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A Polikarpov Po-2, similar to the aircraft operated by the Night Witches

"Night Witches" is the English translation of Nachthexen, a World War II German nickname (Russian Ночные ведьмы), for the female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces. The regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya. The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war.[1] At its largest size, it had 40 two-person crews. It flew over 23,000 sorties and is said to have dropped 3,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly-decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot having flown over 1,000 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.[2]

The regiment flew in wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in all of aviation history. The planes could carry only two bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were 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, the 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 to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches."[3] Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.[4]

From June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was within the 4th Air Army. In February 1943 the regiment was honored with a reorganization into the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and in October 1943 it became the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.[5] The word Taman referred to the unit's involvement in two celebrated Soviet victories on the Taman Peninsula, during 1943.


Senior Lieutenant Yevgeniya Rudneva, air navigator

Captain Nadezhda Popova, pilot, in 2009

  • Yevdokia Bershanskaya—Regimental Commander
  • Yevgeniya Zhigulenko, Hero of the Soviet Union—Flight Commander
  • Tat'yana Makarova, Hero of the Soviet Union—Flight Commander
  • Nina Ul'yanenko, Hero of the Soviet Union—Flight Navigator
Notable members

Exclusively female units

On October 8, 1941, Order number 0099 specified the creation of three women's squadrons—all personnel from technicians to pilots would be entirely composed by women. These were:[6]

Cultural references

  • Harry Turtledove's alternate history series Worldwar features Lieutenant Ludmilla Gorbunova, a fictional "Night Witch".
  • The Night Witches had appeared in the long-running British comic strip Johnny Red. Writer Garth Ennis, a childhood fan of the strip, would later write a three-part comic book mini-series called Battlefields: The Night Witches[7]
  • Another comic where the Night Witches appear is the trilogy "The Nightowl" from Yann Hugault (editions Silvester)
  • Katya Berkovna, a character in the novel Last Citadel by David L. Robbins, serves with the Night Witches during the Battle of Kursk.
  • "Nachthexen" (Night Witches) is the title of a song off the 2008 album ...Of Frost and War by Dutch death metal band Hail of Bullets.


  1. "We were called Night Witches" by Rakobolskaya I. V. Kravcova N. F. Moscow:MGU, 2005 ISBN 5-211-05008-8
  2. Noggle, Anne; White, Christine (2001). A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1-58544-177-5. 
  3. New York Times obituary of Nadezhda Popova
  4. Axell, Albert (2002). Russia's Heroes 1941–45. Carroll and Graf Publishers. pp. 60–62. ISBN 0-7867-1011-X. 
  5. (Russian) 65-летие 4-ой Армии ВВС и ПВО
  6. Original transcript order 0099 01 10 1941
  7. Battlefields, Dynamite Entertainment


Further reading

  • "Day of Glory for USSR's Night Witches", by Robyn Dixon. Los Angeles Times. May 10, 2001, Part A: Foreign Desk, page A1.
  • What They Didn't Teach You About World War II, by Mike Wright 1998 ISBN D39191-649S

External links

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