The Night Witches or the “Nachthexen” (Porath) were an all-female Soviet regiment during World War II. They were the “588th Night Bomber Aviation Regiment” (Porath) initially started by a famous Russian pilot called Marina Raskova who was born in 1912. She was said to be “on par with Amelia Earhart even before World War II began” (Porath) and was a national celebrity. Stalin agreed with her plan to recruit women into the army because he saw it “as a morale booster” (Porath) and so Raskova personally interviewed those who volunteered.
There was said to be “over 2000 inquiries” (Porath) all mostly civilians and between the ages of “17 to 26” (Porath). The aid was sorely needed within the army, thus the volunteers did not have much time for training. When everything was organised, preparation was quick and “brutal” and the women often slept in shacks such as a “cow shed” (Porath) following a working day of 14 hours. The women were only provided with trainer planes, often faulty and flammable and had no access to parachutes, navigation equipment, brakes and more which were usually required on a ‘regular’ plane.
They would “dogpile whatever plane needed help” (Porath) basically heap tonnes of plane parts together and got so good at it they could “turn around a plane in five minutes” (Porath) which allowed them to partake in multiple runs in one night. For three whole years, the Night Witches bombed Nazi’s “every three minutes” (Porath) on the days they did their runs. They would initially send a noisy decoy plane to distract the Nazis before descending themselves which led to their name ‘Witches.’
By the end of the war, they had “flew over 1100 nights of combat” (Porath) and it is estimated that around “200 women had been part of the squadron” (Porath) with “only 32” (Porath) of the Night Witches losing their lives. The Nazi’s feared them so much they believed these women were “given an experimental serum that gave them perfect night vision” (Porath). After the war “25 Night Witches had been given the Nation’s highest honor: Hero of the Soviet Union” (Porath) and information on their individual stories can be found on Porath’s website.
Porath, Jason. Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics. Dey St., 2016.