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
The regiment in 1942.

"Night Witches" (German: die Nachthexen; Russian: Ночные ведьмы, Nochnye Vedmy) was a World War II German nickname for the 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, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin issued an order on October 8, 1941, 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 made up primarily of female volunteers in their late teens and early twenties.[1]

History and tactics[edit]

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 23,000 sorties, dropping over 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary shells.[3][4] 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.[5]

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.[6] 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 stall 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 four on 31 July 1943.[7]

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][8] Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes until 1944.[9]

When the regiment was deployed to the front in June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment became part of the 4th Air Army on 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,[10] "Taman" referring to the unit's involvement in Novorossiysk-Taman operations on the Taman Peninsula during 1943.

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.[11][12]

  • 12 June 1942: The regiment's baptism by fire took place on the Southern front in bombings of river crossings on the Mius, Severny Donets, and Don rivers as well as roads in the Sal steppes and Stavropol suburbs.
  • August–December 1942: In the Battle of the Caucasus, the regiment defended the city of Vladikavkaz as well as bombing enemy equipment and troops in Digora, Mozdok, and Prokhladnaya.
  • January 1943: Assisted in the breakthrough of enemy defensive lines on the Terek River as well as offensive operations against ground troops in the Kuban River valley and Stavropol.
  • March – September 1943: Assisted in the breakthrough of the Kuban bridgehead and the liberation of Novorossiysk.
  • April – July 1943: Participated in the campaign of aerial warfare over Kuban.
  • November 1943 – May 1944: Provided air support to ground troops in the Kerch–Eltigen Operation as part of the Crimean Offensive and in the city of Sevastopol.
  • June–July 1944: Bombed enemy fortifications along the Pronya River, helping to take control of Białystok, Cherven, Minsk, and Mogilev in Byelorussia.
  • August 1944: Operations over Poland in campaigns to expel the Germans from the cities of Augustów, Warsaw, and Ostrołęka.
  • January 1945: Participated in the East Prussian Offensive.
  • March 1945: Participated in offensives over Gdynia and Gdansk.
  • April – May 1945: Assisted in the Vistula–Oder Offensive.
  • 15 October 1945: The regiment was disbanded following the end of the war and service members were demobilized.


Throughout the course of the war the regiment accumulated approximately 23,672 sorties in combat, including in the following battles:[3]

  • 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.[3]


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 in addition to 28 aircraft written off.[13][14]



Major Yevdokiya Bershanskaya, the commander of the regiment, became the only woman awarded the Order of Suvorov
Yevdokiya Nosal, the first member of the regiment to be awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union and the first female pilot to be posthumously awarded the title.

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.[15]

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 Dive Bomber Regiment.[16] Although all three regiments had been planned to have women exclusively, none would remain an all-female regiment.[17] The 586th and 588th Regiments employed male mechanics,[18][19] 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 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 and tail gunner.[5][20] The 588th Regiment's staff driver and searchlight operatives were also male.[21][22]

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.[23]
  • 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.[24]
  • 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.[25]
  • 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.[26] Secondly, a Russian TV series titled Night Swallows, very loosely based on 588 was produced and distributed.[27] 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.[28]
  • In 2015 it was announced that Eclectic Pictures had optioned a screenplay by Steven Prowse called The Night Witches which has won over twenty-five screenwriting competitions, more than any other screenplay currently available.[29]

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.[30] Writer Garth Ennis, a childhood fan of the strip, would later write a three-part comic book mini-series called Battlefields: The Night Witches.[31][32]
  • Another comic where the Night Witches appeared is "The Grand Duke" by Yann and Romain Hugault (Archaia Entertainment, 2012.)[33]
  • '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).[34]
  • 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.
  • 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.[35]
  • In 2017, Big Finish Productions, an audio drama company who produce official Doctor Who plays, released The Night Witches, a historical adventure written by Roland Moore, and featuring the Second Doctor.[36]
  • 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.[37]
  • Sapphire Skies, by Belinda Alexandra, tells the story of the disappearance of Natalya Azarova, a Night Witch.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nadezhda Popova, WWII 'Night Witch' dies at 91". The New York Times. July 14, 2013.
  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. ^ a b c Mikhail, Maslov. Прославленный ПО-2 : "небесный тихоход", "кофемолка", "чокнутый будильник". Moskva. ISBN 9785699902668. OCLC 981761317.
  4. ^ "Nadezhda Vasilyevna Popova". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. April 28, 2016.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Garber, Megan (July 15, 2013). "Night Witches: The Female Fighter Pilots of World War II". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  7. ^ Rakobolskaya, Irina; Kravtsova, Natalya (2005). Нас называли ночными ведьмами : так воевал женский 46-й гвардейский полк ночных бомбардировщиков. Moscow: University of Moscow Press. p. 336. ISBN 5211050088. OCLC 68044852.
  8. ^ Noggle, Anne (1994). A Dance With Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II. Texas A&M University Press. pp. 18–21. ISBN 9781585441778.
  9. ^ Axell, Albert (2002). Russia's Heroes 1941–45. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 60–62. ISBN 0-7867-1011-X.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ "588 нбап/46 гнбап". Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  12. ^ "Боевой путь полка". Retrieved 2018-03-23.
  13. ^ Laktionova, Lesya (1999). Женские авиационные части в Великой Отечественной войне 1941–1945 гг. :Историческое исследование. Moscow.
  14. ^ "46-й гв. нбап - страница клуба "Память" Воронежского госуниверситета". Retrieved 2018-04-02.
  15. ^ "Герои Советского Союза, России, Казахстана". Retrieved 2018-04-05.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  18. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  19. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  20. ^ 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.
  21. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  22. ^ "The Soviet Military Awards Page Forum". Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  23. ^
  24. ^ "V nebe 'Nochnye vedmy' (1981)". IMDb. 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  25. ^ Birchenough, Tom (June 28, 2001). "'Witches' hitches U.K.-Russian team". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  26. ^ "The Night Witch". The New York Times. December 12, 2001.
  27. ^ "Night Swallows". YouTube. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
  28. ^ Kroll, Justin (November 4, 2013). "'Remember the Titans' Scribe to Pen World War II Drama 'Night Witches'". Variety. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  29. ^ "The Night Witches". IMDb.
  30. ^ "Garth Ennis And Keith Burns Revive 'Johnny Red' At Titan". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  31. ^ "Garth Ennis's Battlefields: Night Witches". Dynamite Entertainment. Archived from the original on February 6, 2009. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  32. ^ "Battlefields: The Night Witches #1 – Battlefields Volume 1: The Night Witches (Issue)". Comic Vine. Retrieved 2017-06-28.
  33. ^ Burgas, Greg (August 9, 2013). "Review time! with The Grand Duke". Comics Should Be Good @ CBR. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  34. ^ Morningstar, Jason (2015). "Night Witches". Bully Pulpit Games. ISBN 978-0-9883909-2-8. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
  35. ^ "Night Witches - Lyrics | Sabaton – Official website and headquarters". Sabaton – Official website and headquarters. Retrieved 2018-06-11.
  36. ^ "4.1. The Night Witches – Doctor Who – The Early Adventures". Big Finish. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  37. ^ "Night Witches by Kathryn Lasky". Kirkus Reviews. January 15, 2017. Retrieved May 28, 2018.
  38. ^ Karen Hardy (May 11, 2014). "Return to tainted Russia and 'night witch' mystery". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 24 May 2019.


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