The Night Witches Episode (+ Show Notes!!)

These Russian Aviatrixes were daunted by nothing, even the Nazi’s.




  • The night witches were the all female night bombing regiment  588 that flew for the Russians in World War II
  • The Regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya
  • They flew from 1942 to 1945 and had 40 two person crews between the ages of 17 and 26
  • They flew Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, usually used for crop dusting
  • Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes were used for military training but rarely if ever were used for bombing (it was tested in 1941 for bombing but the Soviets decided it wasn’t that great as it could only hold 2-8 bombs at a time, most places say 6 but it varies from source to source)
    • The Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes used by the night witches were usually made of plywood and canvas
    • They were open and as the night witches flew at night, around russia their faces would freeze
    • Nadia Popova, one of the Night Witches said that “when winds were strong it would toss the plane, in winter when you’d look out to see the target better, you get frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying.”
  • Because it could only hold a few bombs they flew multiple flights per night, in fact each night witch flew 800-1,000 missions
    • At that time it was standard for crews to do 8-12 missions, the night witches did 800
  • Because the planes were not great they developed the tactic of turning their engines off as they approached an enemy plane, gliding/dropping down and bombing the airplane before turning the engines on and flying away
  • The sound of them dropping was described by the germans as the sound of a broom, hence the name night witch
  • They used their navigation pencils as lip stick
  • The germans were so scared of the night witches anyone who downed a night witch automatically got an Iron Cross, a rather high military decoration
  • One hit from a tracer bullet and a night witch plane would burst into flames and the planes flew 8-12 missions a night, flying through enemy fire for the majority of the time
  • Sometimes the engines/propellers would stop and the women would have to crawl out onto the wings mid flight and manually spin the propellor to get the planes working again
  • In the winter of 1942 there were horrible blizzards they had to lie on the wings of their planes to keep them from falling off
  • In 1943 two soviet planes, Po-2’s made of plywood and canvas were suddenly faced with 43 Nazi fighters that had seemingly just appeared from nowhere
    • They had more agile planes (because they were small and made of plywood) and outmanuvered the Nazi’s for a while and took down four planes with bullets then one of the pilots, Tamara Pamyatnykh, noticed she was out of bullets so she decided to ram the other airplanes, that weren’t made of just canvas and plywood, with her plane
    • She got so close to the other plane she could see his face
    • Then a round of gunfire hit her plane right as she was ramming him and her wing fell off and the plane caught fire
    • She was thrown into a spin and just as she was about to be consumed by flame she undid her seatbelt and was thrown from the cockpit just barely pulling the cord on her parachute
    • The plane landed in a field and people around offered the pilot vodka, she refused, they were confused until they realized the pilot was a woman
    • Raisa, the other pilot still in the air was making another round at the Nazi planes (she had 38 to take down) and Tamara was certain Raisa would die
    • Tamara went to send a telegram and when she came back she was certain Raisa would be dead but she was there in the field waiting for Raisa
    • They hugged and Tamara says that “we had the feeling we had both given birth again”
      • They were each awarded the order of the red star and the queen of England, having heard of the ordeal, made the king send Tamara and Raisa gold watches
    • In another mission Tamara was sent out with Galina Burdina (yes, that’s actually her name) and a Russian plane mistook their planes for enemy planes and shot Tamara who after giving him chase and getting her wings blown off (really flimsy wings) landed in a field
    • Galinda chased the Russian flyer away and then Tamara realized that her plane was covered in bullet holes and that one had gone through her ill fitting jacket just missing her by just inches
    • The soviets were going to try the pilot in a military tribunal but the night witches stepped in and told them not to because “they just felt sorry for the young boy”
  • Serafima Amosova-Taraneko says that when one of their regiments planes got shot down and the pilot and navigator killed, they wrote “Revenge to the Enemy for the Death of our Friends” on their planes
    • She says also that they were so focused on flying that they had supper in their cockpits
    • Serafima remarks that after the war none of them slept well because for the past three years they slept random hours between missions, day and night which kept them from keeping a normal sleeping schedule
    • She also tells about the long lasting friendship and how they all gather together, exchange letters and help each other out financially and morally
  • Captain Clavdiya Illushina was the engineer for the regiment
    • As engineer she recalls she had to rearm and refuel/fix  20 to 30 planes a night as well as inspect all the planes before a flying mission (40 planes 8-12 times a night)
    • At first she didn’t like working with the night witches, she had never worked with women before and she didn’t like that they were, according to her, “naughty” but she remarks that eventually they became really close friends and even now refer to each other as sisters
    • She recounts that they were once flying over Ukraine and stopped at a house for dinner and to sleep
    • None of them had slept for a while and were sleeping rather well when the wife of the house woke them saying that the germans were outside in the field and bombing all the planes
      • They threw clothes on and ran out to the field and as they were running Clavdiya realized that she was wearing high heels
      • Her shoe broke and at that moment a bomber came and started attacking her with bullets, she ducked and the plane flew over her
      • They reason she had heeled shoes was because an inspector thought that was a good reward for their readiness to bomb (it wasn’t really)
    • She recalls another time when they were flying, a bomber fired at them and shot their instrument panel but because they didn’t have parachutes they had to land
      • The German fighter saw them landing and went to shoot them on the ground when two other night witch planes appeared out of “nowhere” and scared the German pilot away
  • Senior Lieutenant Yevgeniya Zhigulenko was in college when she and her friend Nina decided to go to the front lines
    • They called one of the air force colonel’s for a week till he let them meet him and they demanded a spot in the air force and said that if they didn’t get it they would sleep in his office and never leave
    • He told them Marina Raskova was forming an all female flying regiment and she joined
  • Once after a mission Nadia Popova said that she counted 42 bullets in her plane, some in her map and some in her helmet she then remarked “Katya my dear, we will live long” to her navigator
  • Hiauz Dospanova once broke both her legs landing in pure darkness and she returned to work only three months later
  • In 2010 Nadia Popova said that she “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes, I can still imagine myself as a young girl, up there in my little bomber. And I ask myself, ‘Nadia, how did you do it?’”


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