‘Night Witches’ That Struck Fear Into The Nazis!

Have you ever heard of the “Night Witches”? This was the nickname given by the Germans to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, an all-female unit of Soviet military aviators during World War II. These brave women played a crucial role in the wardropping more than 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazi targets and becoming a symbol of fear for the Nazis. 

Nazi soldiers feared even the eerie sound of the Night Witches’ gliding planes at night. But there’s more to their story. Despite their success, the squad faced significant dangers and also ridicule just because they were female. Let’s dive in to know the details. 

Formation and Early Challenges

The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was formed thanks to the efforts of Major Marina Raskova, also known as “Russian Amelia Earhart.” Maria, a famous aviator used her influence to persuade Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to allow women to join combat units. The squad was ordered on October 8, 1941, and the regiment was composed of young female volunteers from 17 to 26. 

They faced huge skepticism, not only from their male companions but also from society. They simply doubted women’s capabilities in combat. Not considering them as serious fighters, the female pilots were given ill-fitting male uniforms and oversized boots. They had to stuff them up with their own torn-up bedding. 

Aircrafts given to the squad were also outdated and did not even have life-saving parachutes. Despite facing sexual harassment and gender discrimination, these women proved their worth through their dedication and bravery. 

Raskova’s determination and Stalin’s support were crucial in forming the regiment. Stalin saw the propaganda value in showcasing women’s roles in the military, which helped gain approval for the initiative. The regiment’s early days were challenging, with the young women undergoing rigorous training and dealing with constant doubts about their abilities.

Image source: Vanity Fair

‘Night Witches’ Strategies Above The Nazis

The Night Witches flew under the cover of darkness in canvas and plywood biplanes. These planes, known as Polikarpov U-2s, were originally designed for training and crop dusting. They were slow, with a top speed lower than the stalling speed of German fighter planes. However, their maneuverability and the pilots’ innovative tactics made them effective. 

Most of their attacks take place at night with three planes. The first two planes draw attention and fire the enemy. The third plane then comes along ready to drop the bomb. What made them even more dangerous was how they cut their engine near the target and glided to the bomb release point. The planes only produced a wind noise that the Germans likened to broomsticks, hence the nickname “Night Witches.”

Flying these missions was difficult. The women faced frostbite, enemy fire, and the constant threat of being shot down. Until 1944, they even flew without parachutes due to the weight constraints of the bombs. Their daily routine involved multiple attacks each night, often flying up to eight missions. Despite the dangers, their camaraderie and shared sense of purpose kept them going. 

Image source: Sandbox

Nazis Feared Even The Sounds of Night Witches

The 588th Regiment participated in several key operations, including the Battle of the Caucasus, the Crimean Offensive, and the Novorossiysk-Taman operations. They accumulated over 23,000 attacks, dropping over 3,000 tons of bombs and inflicting significant damage on Nazi targets. 

They destroyed 17 river crossings, nine railways, 26 warehouses, and numerous other enemy assets. Their contributions were recognized with the Guards designation, and many pilots were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title.

Their slow, maneuverable biplanes became an unexpected advantage. German pilots found it difficult to shoot them down due to their low speed and agility. The psychological impact on the Nazis was quite deep. German soldiers feared the eerie sound of the Night Witches’ gliding planes. Any German airman who shot down a Night Witch plane was automatically awarded the prestigious Iron Cross medal.

Image source: True heroes of war
Image source: Air Power Asia

Aftermath of the War

After the war, transitioning to civilian life was challenging for the Night Witches. Despite their heroic contributions, they had to return to traditional roles. Some, like pilot Irina Rakobolskaya, struggled with balancing their careers and family life. 

“I think that during the war, when the fate of our country was being decided, the bringing in of women into aviation was justified. But in peacetime, a woman can only fly for sport…otherwise, how can one combine a career with a family and with maternal happiness?”

Irina Rakobolskaya

The legacy of the Night Witches has been recognized over the years through monuments, documentaries, and books. Their story continues to inspire new generations. 

Image source: The Washington Post


The Night Witches’ contributions to World War II were not just about the bombs they dropped but about breaking barriers and challenging societal norms. Their bravery and resilience continue to inspire and resonate today, reminding us of the extraordinary impact that determined individuals can have, regardless of gender. Their legacy lives on as a testament to the power of courage and perseverance

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