Night witches is an English translation word for Nachthexen, which is German nickname from World War II for the female military aviators who belonged to 588th Night Bomber Regiment. This 588th Night Bomber Regiment came to be known as the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. The 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment was a part of the Soviet Air Forces. The regiment was founded by Marina Raskova and commanded by Yevdokia Bershanskaya.
- This regiment flew harassment bombing, as well as, precision bombing missions against the German military. These bombing raids went on regularly from 1942 up until the war ended.
- When it was at its largest sizes, the Night Witches regiments would have forty two-person crews.
- The Night Witches Aviators managed to fly more than 23, 000 sorties, and they were said to have dropped, over 3,000 tons of bombs.
- This female unit was one of the most-decorated of all women units in the Soviet Air Force. Each woman pilot flew over 800 missions by the time World War II came to an end.
- 23 of these female pilots were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title.
- 30 of the Night Witches members died in combat during World War II.
- The kind of planes that this female regiment would fly in were made out of wood and canvas. These planes were called the Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes and they were the most produced of all biplanes in aviation history.
- These biplanes were mainly constructed only for aircraft training and crop dusting. However, they were used in combat in World II, and they carried up to six bombs at a time.
- This made these planes excellent for multiple night time bombing missions.
- The Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were very slow and obsolete. Despite this, the female aviators were able to use them in a daring way, by making use of their exceptional maneuverability.
- These biplanes also had the upper advantage of having a maximum speed that was far lower than that of the stall speed of German air-crafts; Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.The German pilots would find it very hard to shoot these female aviators down while in flight.
- An attack technique that was used by the squadron of these Russian female pilots was that they would take their biplanes and power-off the engine close to the target.
- They would then glide to the bomb release point.
- The German soldiers were afraid of these aviators. The wind noise that these air-crafts made when gliding with no engine thrust at night time made them look like witches on broom sticks.
- Thus the Germans gave these aviators the title ‘Night Witches’.
The Night Witches saw a lot of air combat and were an important part of the Soviet Air Forces. Their presence was very strong from a feminine aspect and they were a very important part of World War II air defense as a result.