Sabaton Saturday: ‘Night Witches’

Sabaton - Heroes Cover art

In, and after, the second world war the rights and places of women in the world, and especially in the United States, changed drastically. The men were gone off to fight in the overseas war and slowly the women were forced to be doing the tasks the men used to do, before they left.
But also in the war itself, women were very much involved. So this week on Overall Loudness’ Sabaton Saturday: The 588th Night Bomber Regiment, a.k.a. the ‘Night Witches’.

The female pilot Mariya Dolina.

The female pilot Mariya Dolina.

The “Nachthexen” were a regiment that was, obviously, executing air attacks at night. They flew harassment bombing, a form of psychological warfare in which you fire at an enemy for a longer period of time, and precision bombing. From the forming by Colonel Marina Raskova in 1942, straight on to the end of World War II.

When the war was over it became clear that this regiment was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force. They flew over 24,000 flights and dropped somewhere around 23,000 tons of bombs. Yet the regiment existed only of forty two-person crews.

Flying in airplanes designed as training aircraft, the Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, they needed to execute several missions throughout the night. These planes only had the capability of carrying six bombs at the time.

A damaged Polikarpov Po-2, forced to land in Ukraine

A damaged Polikarpov Po-2, forced to land in Ukraine

The aircrafts were slow, but the female pilots made a very daring use of their exceptional maneuverability. When approaching a target, the pilots turned off the engine and glided towards the target, using the wind noise to hide their location.

With this wind noise and the pilots almost looking invisible, the Germans were reminded of broomsticks, therefore calling them “Nachthexen” (Night Witches).

Yevdokia Bershanskaya was in charge of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. She was an experienced pilot and therefore one of the logical leaders of the regiment. 23 pilots of the regiment were later awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, two were awarded Hero Of Russia and one awarded Hero of Kazakhstan. Bershanskaya herself was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

Until the dissolving of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, later known as the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, it stayed all female. Thirty of its members fell in combat.

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