The women pilots of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Forces, popularly known as the Night Witches, moved forward to struck fear in the hearts of Nazis. They had no machine gun, no radar, no parachutes, and no radios but still gained success in World War II. They only had a map, rulers, compass, flashlights, pencils, and stopwatches. Yet they managed to complete 30,000 bomb raids and dropped more than 23,000 tons of ammunition on the German armies within four years of World War II.
About the female regiment
The all-women pilot’s squad was the result of the women in the Soviet Union, who were willing to get involved in the war. From the very beginning of the war, Colonel Marina Raskova began to receive letters from the women who passionately wanted to get involved. She took their plea seriously and organized a regiment for female pilots to fight against the Germans.
In October 1941, Joseph Stalin granted Raskova to establish three all-female air squads. The Soviet Union became the very first country to allow females to fly combat missions. 588th Night Bomber Regiment was the only air squad that exclusively had women in it.
The team of approximately 400 women of age ranging between 17 to 26 assembled in Engels in 1942.
Treatment offered to the women
The women were provided with the uniforms that were meant for men. Some of them even tore their bedding to stuff into their boots to avoid slipping off. They were provided with outdates equipment and the planes that never intended to fly for combat.
Polikarpov Po-2: the airplane
It was a two-seated, biplane with open cockpit made out of plywood along with a canvas. It had nothing to protect the pilots from the ammunitions, freezing winds, and zero degree temperatures at night. Also, the planes were two small that could carry only two bombs at a time. Thus, they had to run multiple missions during the night (eight missions on average).
The plane was highly flammable, slow, and had zero armor. However, it had its advantages because of its primitive construction, and the Night Witches were difficult to spot on radar. When they are almost near the target, the engines got shut, and the plane glided to the desired destination. It glided fifty percent slower than a parachute, and thus, Germans got a minimal warning to prepare their army.
The Night Witches used their slow speed as an advantage to plan a better movement approach. The Germans had faster-flying airplanes, which proved to be a disadvantage for them. As they got very little time to attack and then they had to take a long time to return to fire again. The Night Witches took advantage of their speed and fled far off in the darkness of night.
Whatever the case may be, but in the end, almost 1 in the 10 women of the 588th regiment – The Night Witches were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. The ladies of 588th received almost 1/4th of all the Soviet Union awards.