The Nachthexen or Night Witches of WW 2, as the Nazis nicknamed them, would swoop down without a sound except for the momentary whooshing of their plywood planes just before they dropped their bombs.
These 400 women, aged 17 to 26, from the all-female 588th Night Bomber units were like ghosts not showing up on radar or radio channels. From their crop duster planes, completing 8 to 18 missions a night, they dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on invading Nazis.
Although women had been employed in the Soviet Air Force in support roles such as, transferring planes and ammunition, in 1941 Stalin decided (at the behest of Marina Raskova) to deploy female squadrons. These teams were trained in navigation, maintenance and piloting at an aviation school north of Stalingrad in a compressed course of months rather than years.
These women bombardiers became a crucial asset against the Nazis. They flew more than 30,000 sorties; 800 per pilot to become the most decorated WW 2 regiment in the Soviet Air Force. Yet, their significant contributions, courage, and adventuresomeness fell out of favour very quickly. Although the Soviet Union was more open to having women combatants, snipers and aviators than European countries, women generally did not receive the same lasting honour as their male counterparts. In fact, this all-female regiment was completely left out of Moscow’s victory-day parade. However, some of their stories are being remembered and embodied this month by a theatre group in Scotland. For more information click here.