Yevdokia Bershanskaya was born in the Russian town of Stavropol on February 6 1913. She was born just before the First World War, a conflict that brought about the demise of the Russian empire and it’s replacement by the Soviet Union. Being a Soviet citizen gave Yevdokia Bershanskaya the chance to become a pilot.
Some Facts About Her:
- Her years of flying experience meant the Soviet Air Force quickly enrolled Yevdokia into their ranks after the German invasion began on June 22 1941. They needed to replace the male pilots captured, or killed in the first days of the Axis attacks.
- Due to the Germans destroying thousands of Soviet planes during their rapid advance towards Leningrad and Moscow, Bershanskaya and her female colleagues had only obsolete biplane bombers to bomb the invaders with.
- The three squadrons, (known as regiments by the Soviets) founded by
Marina Raskova, comprised of only women.
- They flew and crewed the old Polikarpov Po-2 biplane bombers, that could carry a respectable bomb load yet their slow speed made them highly vulnerable to German fighters and anti-aircraft gunners if flown during the daylight.
- To lower the risks of being shot down in the slow Polikarpov planes, the three regiments of women that crewed them were ordered to always attack German positions, and targets at night. The Soviet Air Force leadership was not always noted for protecting its crews but the orders to fly at night were really sensible.
- Bershanskaya assisted in the development of tactics that made the three regiments feared by the Germans, as it made it harder for German anti-aircraft gunners, and night fighters to shot them down. The Germans dubbed them the “Night Witches.”
- Whenever possible the Night Witches flew at low altitudes where the Germans were known to have radar. They would rise to a higher altitude, turn off the plane engines, quietly glide into the best bombing positions, and only turn the power on for the return flight back to their bases.
- As a whole the Night Witches caused a great deal of damage to the Germans. They continued to fly at night even after the Luftwaffe became gravely weakened in the last months of the war.
- Bershanskaya joined the 588th Night Bomber regiment(Night Witches) in June 1941. Due to her flying skills she was made the Regimental Commander.
- In 1943 the Soviet Air Force altered the command and designations of its air regiments. The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was reconstituted as the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.
- For her efforts in the Great Patriotic War, she was awarded the Order of the Red Badge of Honor, as well as the Patriotic War medal. She’s also the only woman to be awarded the Order of Suvorov.
- She died of a heart attack during 1982.