*I’m a history buff, and I hate that history gets such a bad rap. If you place a rock next to any high school history book, it’s the rock that’s going to look vivacious and interesting. The names, dates, battles, and treaties we all learned in school are not what history is all about. History is about the people that lived it, the people that made it happen. And I’m here to prove it, one historical badass at a time.*
Who in the heck were the Night Witches? It sounds a bit scary, and so it should – they were the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment of the Soviet Air Force during World War II. There were over 200 women in the regiment, and over the course of the war they dropped over 3,000 tons of bombs, all from rickety wood-and-canvas biplanes (yes, you read that correctly) that were made for crop-dusting. The ground crews, the people that maintained, armored, and prepared the aircraft, were mostly women as well. 

The Germans gave them the name Night Witches because the women, flying in the dark of night, would idle the engines and literally glide down to the target, release their bombs, restart the engines, and fly away. The whistling sound made when the planes drew near made the Germans think of witches on broomsticks. The 588th was not the only all-female regiment, and by the end of the war there were three female “aces,” and two different female regiments received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction in the Soviet Union. Over the course of the war, thirty members of the Night Witches died in combat.

The Night Witches
were used for precision bombing of targets, and also for harassment
bombing. They would fly multiple missions every night, precisely timed,
so that the Germans would not be able to rest.  Around 40 planes
flew each night, each with one pilot and one navigator. (The planes had no radio or navigation system of any kind – they found their way with a paper map.) They often
returned with planes riddled with bullet holes, and because they were made from wood
and canvas, there was always the threat of the little planes catching
on fire. 

Senior Lieutenant Nina Raspopova was only seventeen years old when she was recommended to join the Military Commisariat, where they offerred to train her as a pilot. Having never even seen an airplane before, she lied about her age and joined, even though the school was reluctant to admit women. She made her first solo flight in 1933 and in 1934 her first parachute jump. She joined the 588th Regiment (later called the 46th Guards Bomber Regiment) in 1941. During her service she made 857 combat missions for a total of over 4,000 flying hours. She was shot down twice.

Major Mariya Smirnova flew 935 flights, and recalls the dangerous missions they made – flying through the front lines, through the fire of antiaircraft guns, and targeting airdromes, railroads, and field headquarters.


The woman standing in the above photo is Nadezhda Popova, who flew 852 sorties and was shot down multiple times.
So, if you please, imagine flying a rickety-ass biplane in the middle of the night, just you and a navigator, flying your way across Europe with a flashlight and a map. Oh, and bombs. And as you approach your target, you have to cut your engine and glide down to it. Then you drop your bombs and get the hell out of there, and your only advantage is that your plane is so slow that its maximum speed is below the stall speed of the enemy planes, and that makes it more difficult for them to shoot you down. 

Please imagine that and get back to me once you’ve finished wetting yourself.

Over and out.

3 thoughts on “History Is Not Dull And I Can Prove It, Part I: The Night Witches”

  1. He sold International Harvester equipment and was too old to serve during the war. So training local women to drive and repair tractors was his contribution .

  2. Amazing story. Thanks for bringing it to light. During WWII, my grandfather trained local women in the Midwest "tractorette" program to teach them to use the tractors to keep their farms running in order to feed their families while their husbands were away fighting. It's not the same as the women bombers flying rickety old biplanes, but everyone did what was needed on both sides. It sure makes you think, doesn't it?

Comments are closed.