Night Witches

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588th Night Bomber Regiment (1942–1943)
46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment (1943–1945)
A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment
CountrySoviet Union
BranchSoviet Air Forces
RoleHarassment and tactical bombing
Nickname(s)Night Witches
EngagementsEastern Front of World War II
DecorationsGuards designation
Order of the Red Banner
Order of Suvorov
Regimental CommanderYevdokiya Bershanskaya
Deputy Regiment CommanderSerafima Amosova
CommissarYevdokiya Rachkevich
Aircraft flown
BomberPolikarpov Po-2

"Night Witches" (German: die Nachthexen; Russian: Ночные ведьмы, Nochnyye Vedmy) was a World War II German nickname for the all female military aviators of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, known later as the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, of the Soviet Air Forces. Though women were initially barred from combat, Major Marina Raskova used her position and personal contacts with the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Joseph Stalin, to obtain permission to form female combat units. On October 8, 1941, an order was issued to deploy three women's air-force units, including the 588th Regiment. The regiment, formed by Major Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokiya Bershanskaya, was composed of primarily female volunteers in their late teens and early twenties.[1]

An attack technique of the night bombers involved idling the engine near the target and gliding to the bomb-release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their presence. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches".[1][2] Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots did not carry parachutes until 1944.[3][4]

When the regiment deployed to the front line in June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment became part of the 4th Air Army of the Southern Front. In February 1943 the regiment was honored with the Guards designation and reorganized as the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment in the 325th Night Bomber Aviation Division, 4th Air Army, 2nd Belorussian Front; in October 1943 it became the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment,[5] "Taman" referring to the unit's involvement in the Novorossiysk-Taman operations on the Taman Peninsula during 1943.

History and tactics[edit]

The regiment flew harassment and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war.[6] At its largest, it had 40 two-person crews. The regiment flew over 23,000 sorties, dropping over 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary shells.[7][8] It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, with many pilots having flown over 800 missions by the end of the war, and twenty-three having been awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union title. Thirty-two of its members died in the war.[9]

The regiment flew in wood-and-canvas Polikarpov U-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft (hence its original uchebnyy designation prefix of "U-") and for crop dusting, which also had a special U-2LNB version for the sort of night harassment attack missions flown by the 588th, and to this day remains the most-produced wood-airframed biplane in aviation history.[citation needed] The plane could carry only two bombs at a time, so eight or more missions per night were often necessary.[10] Although the aircraft was obsolete and slow, the pilots took advantage of its exceptional maneuverability; it also had a maximum speed that was lower than the stalling speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, which made it very difficult for German pilots to shoot down, with the exception of fighter ace Josef Kociok, who grounded the regiment for an entire night by shooting down three or four of their planes on the night of 31 July – 1 August 1943.[11][12][13][14]

Original reception[edit]

This all-female aviation regiment was not welcomed initially into the military with open arms. Many of their male counterparts saw them as inferior and treated them with lack of respect.[15] The women of the regiment were also given hand-me-downs of uniforms and over-sized shoes by the men, as well as rudimentary tools (such as rulers, flashlights, pencils, etc) that lacked the "luxury" that the male soldiers received with their tools (e.g. radar, guns, radios, etc).[16]

Timeline and operations[edit]

Members of the regiment were deployed from the Engels Military Aviation School to the Southern Front as part of the 218th Division of the 4th Air Army on 23 May 1942, where they arrived on 27 May.[17]


Throughout the course of the war the regiment accumulated approximately 23,672 sorties in combat, including in the following battles:[7]

  • Battle of the Caucasus – 2,920 sorties
  • Kuban, Taman, Novorossiysk – 4,623 sorties
  • Crimean Offensive – 6,140 sorties
  • Belarus Offensive – 400 sorties
  • Poland Offensive – 5,421 sorties
  • German Offensive – 2,000 sorties

In total the regiment collectively accumulated 28,676 flight hours, dropped over 3,000 tons of bombs and over 26,000 incendiary shells, damaging or completely destroying 17 river crossings, nine railways, two railway stations, 26 warehouses, 12 fuel depots, 176 armored cars, 86 firing points, and 11 searchlights. In addition to bombings, the unit performed 155 supply drops of food and ammunition to Soviet forces.[7]


Irina Sebrova flew 1,008 sorties in the war, more than any other member of the regiment.

In total, 261 people served in the regiment, of whom 32 died of various causes including plane crashes, combat deaths and tuberculosis. 28 aircraft were written off.[18][19]


Repressed personnel[edit]

Senior Engineer Sofiya Ozerkova was sentenced to death by a military tribunal in 1942, but she was later acquitted after her sentence was suspended and she was reinstated to her position.[20] Mechanics Raisa Kharitonova and Tamara Frolova were sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for dismantling a flare (used by navigators to illuminate bombing targets) and using the small silk parachute to sew undergarments. Both of them were retrained as navigators, but Frolova was killed in action in 1943.[21][22]

Honored personnel[edit]

Twenty-three personnel from the regiment were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union, two were awarded Hero of the Russian Federation, and one was awarded Hero of Kazakhstan.[23]

Heroes of the Soviet Union[edit]

Heroes of the Russian Federation[edit]

Hero of Kazakhstan[edit]

Other women's regiments[edit]

On 8 October 1941, Order number 0099 specified the creation of three women's regiments—all personnel from technicians to pilots would be entirely composed of women. The other two regiments were the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, which used Yak-1 fighters, and the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment, which used twin engine Pe-2 dive bombers. Later the unit received the Guards designation and reorganized as the 125th Guards Bomber AviationRegiment.[24] Although all three regiments had been planned to have women exclusively, none remained all-female.[25] The 586th and 588th Regiments employed male mechanics,[26][27] the 586th because no women had received training to work on the Yakovlev fighter planes before the war. The 586th's woman commander, Major Tamara Aleksandrovna Kazarinova, was replaced by a man, Major Aleksandr Vasilievich Gridnev, in October 1942. The 587th Regiment was originally under the command of Marina Raskova, but after her death in 1943, a male commanding officer, Major Valentin Vasilievich Markov, replaced her. The 587th's Petlyakov Pe-2 dive bombers also required a tall person to operate the top rear machine gun, but not enough women recruited were tall enough, requiring some men to join the aircrews as radio operator and tail gunner.[9][28] The 588th Regiment's staff driver and searchlight operatives were also male.[29][30]

In media[edit]

A 1982 Soviet envelope commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the regiment.

Film and television depictions[edit]

  • In 1974, the Soviet film Only Old Men Are Going to Battle featured two Night Witches as love interests of the main characters.[31][32]
  • In 1981, a Soviet feature-length film called Night Witches In The Sky [ru] (В небе «ночные ведьмы») was directed by Yevgenia Zhigulenko, Hero of the Soviet Union, and one of the members of the regiment.[33]
  • In 2001, a UK-Russian co-production starring Malcolm McDowell, Sophie Marceau and Anna Friel was due to be made, but failed to get backing from an American studio.[34]
  • In 2013 two different productions were released. First came a short animation called The Night Witch commemorating Nadezhda Popova — who had died earlier that year—commissioned in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine's The Lives They Lived issue, and directed by Alison Klayman.[35] Secondly, a Russian TV series titled Night Swallows, very loosely based on 588 was produced and distributed.[36] There was also an announcement in the same year of a feature film to be written by Gregory Allen Howard and financed by the grandson of Boris Yeltsin, but there have been no updates since the initial announcement.[37]
  • In 2019 Heidi Jo Markel, a producer on Olympus Has Fallen and its sequels attached as executive producer to a screenplay called The Night Witches written by Steven Prowse, which won forty screenwriting competitions, more than any other screenplay currently available.[38]
  • The Night Witches - Sizzle Reel (currently a script for a movie project) consists of archive footage of the Night Witches.[39]

Media references[edit]

  • The Night Witches had appeared in the long-running British comic strip Johnny Red, created by Tom Tully and Joe Colquhoun for the Battle Picture Weekly.[40] Writer Garth Ennis, a childhood fan of the strip, later wrote a three-part comic book mini-series called Battlefields: The Night Witches.[41][42]
  • Another comic where the Night Witches appeared is "The Grand Duke" by Yann and Romain Hugault (Archaia Entertainment, 2012.)[43]
  • 'Operation Nachthexen', a story in Commando issue 4599 (May 2013), was reputedly the first time a woman was the lead character in a story in this publication. The addition of two further stories, 'Witch Hunt' (4616, July 2013) and 'Warrior's Return' (4635, September 2013) produced the 'Nachthexen Saga' trilogy. All three stories were written by Mac MacDonald and illustrated by Carlos Pino. The protagonist is named Yana Belinky.
  • Jason Morningstar's Night Witches is a tabletop role-playing game (Bully Pulpit Games, 2015).[44]
  • Red Sisters, Black Skies is an 18 player live action role-playing game run at the 2017 Phenomenon Role-playing Convention in Canberra based on Jason Morningstar's Night Witches. The game was held for two sessions and involved social interactions between night raids over 3 days. The GM Melody won the best new designer award. [45]
  • The regiment features as the subject matter of the first track, of the same name, on Swedish power metal band Sabaton's 2014 studio album Heroes.[46]
  • In 2017, Big Finish Productions, an audio drama company that produces official Doctor Who plays, released The Night Witches, a historical adventure written by Roland Moore, and featuring the Second Doctor.[47]
  • Lieutenant Ludmila Gorbunova from Worldwar by Harry Turtledove is a member of the Night Witches.
  • In Kathryn Lasky's novel Night Witches, the protagonist sets out to enlist in the unit, her older sister already serving as a Night Witch.[48]
  • Sapphire Skies, by Belinda Alexandra, tells the story of the disappearance of Natalya Azarova, a Night Witch.[49]
  • The Huntress, by Kate Quinn, tells a fictitious narrative through the eyes of one Night Witch during WWII, entwined with the tale of a Nazi hunter.[50]
  • The 14th episode of Season 6 of Drunk History, subtitled Behind Enemy Lines and first broadcast on 23 July 2019, included the story of the Night Witches, with Emily Deschanel playing the role of Marina Raskova.[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nadezhda Popova, WWII 'Night Witch' dies at 91". The New York Times. July 14, 2013.
  2. ^ Noggle 1994, pp. 18–21.
  3. ^ Axell, Albert (2002). Russia's Heroes 1941–45. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 60–62. ISBN 0-7867-1011-X.
  4. ^ Noggle 1994, p. 19.
  5. ^ Erokhin, Evgeny (2008). "65-летие 4-ой Армии ВВС и ПВО − Ростов-на-Дону, 25–26 мая 2007" [The 65th anniversary of the 4th Red Army Air Force and Air Defence Forces − Rostov-on-Don, 25–26 May 2007]. (in Russian). Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  6. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005.
  7. ^ a b c Maslov, Mikhail (2016). Прославленный ПО-2 : "небесный тихоход", "кофемолка", "чокнутый будильник" [The renowned PO-2: "Heavenly slug", "coffee grinder", "crazy alarm clock"]. Moscow: IAuza EKSMO. ISBN 9785699902668. OCLC 981761317.
  8. ^ "Nadezhda Vasilyevna Popova". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. April 28, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Noggle, Anne; White, Christine (2001). A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press. pp. 20–21. ISBN 1-58544-177-5.
  10. ^ Garber, Megan (July 15, 2013). "Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  11. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005, p. 149.
  12. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005, p. 80-82.
  13. ^ Noggle 1994, p. 65-67.
  14. ^ Obermaier, Ernst (1989). Die Ritterkreuzträger der Luftwaffe Jagdflieger 1939 – 1945 [The Knight's Cross Bearers of the Luftwaffe Fighter Force 1939 – 1945] (in German). Mainz, Germany: Verlag Dieter Hoffmann. p. 147. ISBN 978-3-87341-065-7.
  15. ^ "The Night Witches: The Female Russian Bomb Squad that Terrorized the Nazis During WWII". 2017-01-30. Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  16. ^ Holland, Brynn. "Meet the Night Witches, the Daring Female Pilots Who Bombed Nazis By Night". HISTORY. Retrieved 2020-09-07.
  17. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005, p. 320-321.
  18. ^ Laktionova, Lesya (1999). Женские авиационные части в Великой Отечественной войне 1941–1945 гг. :Историческое исследование. Moscow.
  19. ^ "46-й гв. нбап - страница клуба "Память" Воронежского госуниверситета". Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  20. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005, p. 55-56.
  21. ^ Goryunov, Oleg. "120 боевых вылетов и незабудки на портянках: жизнь и смерть "Ночных ведьм"". Телеканал «Звезда» (in Russian). Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  22. ^ Rakobolskaya & Kravtsova 2005, p. 326.
  23. ^ "Герои Советского Союза, России, Казахстана". Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  24. ^ Kharin, V. V. (2016). "Приказ НКО СССР 0099 от 08.10.41 – О сформировании женских авиационных полков ВВС Красной Армии" [Prikaz NKO SSSR 0099 of 10/08/41 – On the formation of women's aviation regiments of the Red Army Air Force]. (in Russian). Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  25. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  26. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  27. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  28. ^ Bhuvasorakul, Jessica Leigh (March 25, 2004). "Unit Cohesion Among the Three Soviet Women's Air Regiments During World War II" (PDF). Tallahassee, Florida: Florida State University. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 25, 2012. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  29. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  30. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  31. ^ Only Old Men Are Going to Battle (1974), accessed 4 November 2020
  32. ^ Художественный фильм «В бой идут одни „старики“» [The film "Only 'old men' are going into battle"]. Первый канал [Channel One] (in Russian). 6 May 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2019.
  33. ^ "V nebe 'Nochnye vedmy' (1981)". IMDb. 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  34. ^ Birchenough, Tom (June 28, 2001). "'Witches' hitches U.K.-Russian team". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  35. ^ "The Night Witch". The New York Times. December 12, 2001.
  36. ^ "Night Swallows". YouTube. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  37. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 4, 2013). "'Remember the Titans' Scribe to Pen World War II Drama 'Night Witches'". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  38. ^ "The Night Witches". IMDb.
  39. ^ "The Night Witches - Sizzle Reel". YouTube. Retrieved 13 January 2021.
  40. ^ "Garth Ennis And Keith Burns Revive 'Johnny Red' At Titan". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  41. ^ "Garth Ennis's Battlefields: Night Witches". Dynamite Entertainment. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  42. ^ "Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 – Battlefields Volume 1: The Night Witches (Issue)". Comic Vine. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  43. ^ Burgas, Greg (August 9, 2013). "Review time! with The Grand Duke". Comics Should Be Good @ CBR. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  44. ^ Morningstar, Jason (2015). Night Witches. Bully Pulpit Games. ISBN 978-0-9883909-2-8. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  45. ^ "Red Sisters, Black Skies". Phenomenon 2017.
  46. ^ "Night Witches - Lyrics | Sabaton – Official website and headquarters". Sabaton – Official website and headquarters. Retrieved 2018-06-11.
  47. ^ "4.1. The Night Witches – Doctor Who – The Early Adventures". Big Finish. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  48. ^ "Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky". Kirkus Reviews. January 15, 2017. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  49. ^ Karen Hardy (May 11, 2014). "Return to tainted Russia and 'night witch' mystery". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
  50. ^ Davidson, Denise (2019-02-24). "'The Huntress' follows search for a war criminal hiding in America". The San Diego Union-Tribune.
  51. ^ "Drunk History - Behind Enemy Lines". July 23, 2019. Retrieved November 11, 2019.


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  • Magid, Aleksandr (1960). Гвардейский Таманский авиационный полк [Guards Taman Aviation Regiment] (in Russian). Moscow: DOSLAF. OCLC 881535802.
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  • Pennington, Reina (1997). Wings, Women, and War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-1554-7.
  • Rakobolskaya, Irina; Kravtsova, Natalya (2005). Нас называли ночными ведьмами: так воевал женский 46-й гвардейский полк ночных бомбардировщиков [We were called night witches: this is how the female 46th Guards regiment of night bombers fought]. Moscow: University of Moscow Press. ISBN 5211050088. OCLC 68044852.
  • Sakaida, Henry (2003). Heroines of the Soviet Union: 1941–45. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-598-3.