The Night Witches
Combat Pilots WWII
Heroines of the Soviet Union
By Emma Gee
Eager young Russian women pilots, some of them still teen-agers, fearlessly fly night bombing missions at the Russian front. They fly outdated Polikarpov Po-2 open cockpit biplanes converted to bombers. These courageous night bomber crews drop their payload of bombs relentlessly on the German invaders during the Great Patriotic War of Russia 1941-1945 during WWII. While caught in the blinding searchlights, they face the overwhelming superiority of the Messerschmitt fighter planes of the German Luftwaffe along with the endless barrage of the enemy anti-aircraft guns on every sortie.
At first, the Russian Military turned away the young female volunteers, telling them to go home and help their mothers, but as the German invasion of Russia progresses, they accepted the female pilots to train as combat pilots. As the war rages on, the courageous women demonstrate their resolve, their male counter parts respectfully refer to the highly decorated airwomen of the night bomber regiment as their ‘brave little sisters.’
To the German soldier, they are the Nachthexen, the dreaded ‘Night Witches’ because of the quiet swoosh of the silenced engines of the Po-2 biplanes, which reminds them of the swooshing sound of a witches broom flying through the air. The constant harassment bombing in the dead of the night, leave the Germans with little rest.
Romance at the front is often just a brief encounter, a kiss goodbye with the hopes of meeting again after the war is over. Some of the airwomen meet soldiers, fall in love, and marry, only to find themselves widowed not long afterwards; that is the way of life on the front lines.
The daredevils of the all-woman night bombing regiment fly between 10 and 18 missions a night in any kind of hazardous weather conditions. Many of them receive the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award, the country’s highest honor, some posthumously, for their awe-inspiring bravery. These courageous young aviators, the only women combat night bombers of WWII, play a significant role in defeating the German invaders and driving them out of their beloved Russia.