Feminism is a heated and most discussed topic in the current decade. But it was the Soviets who unknowingly gave rise to this crucial and significant movement. How? By giving birth to the Night Witches.
Who were the Night Witches?
In the period during World War II, women weren’t allowed to be in any higher positions. Then came a revolutionary woman by the name of Marina Raskova aka the Soviet Amelia Earhart.
She was famous not just for being the Soviet navigator but also had long-flight records in her name. Receiving several requests from women in the Soviets, she decided to develop an all-women fighting squadron. She petitioned to Joseph Stalin and on October 3, 1941, Stalin deployed 3 air-force units consisting of all female pilots.
400 women were chosen out of 2000 applications. The candidates selected were mainly students in the age range 16-25. The unit was called the 588th Night Bomber Regiment and labeled the Night Witches.
Where did the Night Witches learn aviation?
The Night Witches received aviation training at Engels School of Aviation located in Engels, a small town north of Stalingrad. The course was very discrete and consisted of a concise syllabus for aviation. Each recruit was trained as a pilot, navigator, maintenance and ground crew. An average soldier had to undergo training for years which the Night Witches completed in just a few months.
What kind of equipment did the Night Witches use?
Due to the limited economy, the supply of planes was low and thus the Night Witches didn’t enjoy the luxuries that a man in the army did. The Nitch Witches got outdated Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes made of plywood. They were 2 seaters with an open cockpit. The plane did not offer any source of protection to extreme climates and the winters of the Soviets were harsh. To give a rough idea, the airplanes got so cold that just touching them peeled off the skin. And, flying in the night was basically a suicide mission. The Night Witches didn’t have parachutes as the male pilots had.
The only upper hand they had was the size of the planes. They were small and neither had radio nor navigation, which made them impossible to trace. The maximum speed of these planes was less than the stall speed of Nazi planes, thus, ironically, making them difficult to target. The downside to this was the pilot of the Soviet plane had to duck when a bullet was shot. Thus, the Night Witches had to dive a lot. The Germans only had one catch on the Night Witches: the noise of the vibrating plane. It was actually the Germans who termed the squadron as the “Night Witches”. The reason being that the planes sounded like the broomstick of the witches.
The first mission of Night Witches took place on June 28, 1941, where they successfully took down the headquarters of invading Nazi forces. They left behind a legacy with bombing over 23,000 tons of bombs on Nazis during World war 2, thus becoming a crucial asset for Soviets in winning the war.