Night Witches

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588th Night Bomber Regiment
A Polikarpov Po-2, similar to the aircraft operated by the Night Witches
Active 1942–1945
Country Soviet Union
Branch Soviet Air Forces
Role Tactical bombing
Nickname(s) Night Witches
Engagements Eastern Front (World War II)
Regimental Commander Yevdokia Bershanskaya
Aircraft flown
Bomber Polikarpov Po-2

"Night Witches" (German: Nachthexen; Russian: Ночные ведьмы, Nochnye Vedmy) was a World War II German nickname for the women 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, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin issued an order on October 8, 1941 to deploy three women's air force units, including the 588th regiment.[1] The regiment, formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya, was made up entirely of women volunteers in their late teens and early twenties.

The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 until the end of the war.[2] At its largest, it had 40 two-person crews. The regiment flew over 24,000 missions and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs.[3] It was the most highly decorated all-women unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot 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 of its members died in combat.[4]

The regiment flew in wood-and-canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop dusting, and to this day the most-produced wood-airframed biplane in aviation history. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so 8 or more missions per night were often necessary.[5] Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. An attack technique of the night bombers was to idle the engine near the target and glide to the bomb release point, with only wind noise left to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots "Night Witches."[1] Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.[6]

From June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was within the 4th Air Army. In February 1943, the regiment was honored with a reorganization into the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and in October 1943 it became the 46th "Taman" Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.[7] "Taman" referred to the unit's involvement in two celebrated Soviet victories on the Taman Peninsula during 1943.


Senior Lieutenant Yevgeniya Rudneva, air navigator
Captain Nadezhda Popova, pilot, in 2009
  • Yevdokia Bershanskaya — Regimental Commander
  • Yevgeniya Zhigulenko, Hero of the Soviet Union — Flight Commander
  • Tat'yana Makarova, Hero of the Soviet Union — Flight Commander
  • Nina Ul'yanenko, Hero of the Soviet Union — Flight Navigator
Notable members

Exclusively female units[edit]

On October 8, 1941, Order number 0099 specified the creation of three women's squadrons—all personnel from technicians to pilots would be entirely composed of women. These were:[8]

Although all three regiments had been planned to have women exclusively, only the 588th would remain an all-women regiment throughout the war. The 586th Regiment had to employ male mechanics as 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 1942, 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/tail gunner.[4][9]

Film and television depictions[edit]

In 1981, a Soviet feature-length film called Night Witches In The Sky (В небе ночные ведьмы) was directed by Evgenia Zhigulenko (Евгения Жигуленко), Hero of the Soviet Union, and one of the members of the 588th.[10]

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.[11]

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 — was commissioned in collaboration with The New York Times Magazine's The Lives They Lived issue, and directed by Alison Klayman.[12] Secondly, a Russian TV series titled Night Swallows was produced and distributed.[13] 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.[14]

Cultural 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.[15] Writer Garth Ennis, a childhood fan of the strip, would later write a three-part comic book mini-series called Battlefields: The Night Witches.[16][17]
  • Another comic where the Night Witches appeared is "The Grand Duke" by Yann and Romain Hugault (Archaia Entertainment, 2012.)[18]
  • Jason Morningstar's Night Witches is a tabletop Role-playing game (Bully Pulpit Games, 2015).[19]
  • 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.
  • In 2017, Big Finish Productions, an audio drama company who produce official Doctor Who plays, will release The Night Witches, a historical adventure written by Roland Moore, and featuring the Second Doctor.[20]
  • The Swedish heavy metal band Sabaton, famous for their war-themed material, have a song called "Night Witches".
  • The dutch death metal band Hail of Bullets have a song called "Nachthexen".[21]
  • Varvara Sidorovna, a recurring character in novels and comics in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch, is a literal witch (or a "magical practitioner") who used to be a member of The Night Witches. Although she is around ninety years old at the time the series take place (early 21st century), her aging reversed sometime in 1966 and she now looks like a young woman.
  • Lieutenant Ludmila Gorbunova from Worldwar by Harry Turtledove is a member of the Night Witches.
  • The British prog-rock band Wolf People have a song called "Night Witch".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nadezhda Popova, WWII 'Night Witch' dies at 91". The New York Times. July 14, 2013. (Subscription required (help)). 
  2. ^ "Rakobolskaya, Irina V.; Kravtsova, Natalya F. (2005). Нас называли ночными ведьмами [We were called the Night Witches] (in Russian). Moscow: Moscow State University. ISBN 5-211-05008-8. 
  3. ^ "Nadezhda Vasilyevna Popova". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. April 28, 2016. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Garber, Megan (July 15, 2013). "Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  6. ^ Axell, Albert (2002). Russia's Heroes 1941–45. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 60–62. ISBN 0-7867-1011-X. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ "V nebe 'Nochnye vedmy' (1981)". IMDb. 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  11. ^ Birchenough, Tom (June 28, 2001). "'Witches' hitches U.K.-Russian team". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  12. ^ "The Night Witch". The New York Times. December 12, 2001. (Subscription required (help)). 
  13. ^ "Night Swallows". YouTube. Retrieved 29 June 2016. 
  14. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 4, 2013). "'Remember the Titans' Scribe to Pen World War II Drama 'Night Witches'". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Garth Ennis And Keith Burns Revive 'Johnny Red' At Titan". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved 2017-06-28. 
  16. ^ "Garth Ennis's Battlefields: Night Witches". Dynamite Entertainment. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  17. ^ "Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 - Battlefields Volume 1: The Night Witches (Issue)". Comic Vine. Retrieved 2017-06-28. 
  18. ^ Burgas, Greg (August 9, 2013). "Review time! with The Grand Duke". Comics Should Be Good @ CBR. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  19. ^ Morningstar, Jason (2015). "Night Witches". Bully Pulpit Games. ISBN 978-0-9883909-2-8. Retrieved June 29, 2016. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Hail of Bullets - ...of Frost and War – Encyclopaedia Metallum: The Metal Archives". Retrieved 2017-03-21. 


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