raskova

Marina Raskova (1912-1943) was a Soviet pilot, navigator, and commander who founded 3 famous female air regiments during the Second World War.

Born to a middle-class Russian family, Raskova initially had aspirations of becoming a musician, but eventually abandoned the idea to study chemistry. While working in a dye factory as a chemist she met Sergei Raskov, an engineer, who she married and had a daughter with. She changed careers in 1931 when she joined the Aerodynamic Navigation Lab of the Soviet Air Force as a draftswoman. Aged 19 in 1933 she became the first female navigator in the Air Force and the following year became the first woman to teach at the Zhukovskii Air Academy.

In 1935 she divorced from her husband and focused on her flying career. She become a famous pilot as well as a navigator, setting a number of long distance records. This included the famous ‘Flight of the Rodina’ covering 6000km from Moscow to Komsomolsk, which she conducted with two other female pilots, Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova. However the flight ran into difficulties at the end of its 26 and a half hour journey when poor visibility hampered the landing. As the navigator’s pit was vulnerable in crash landings, Raskova bailed out with a parachute while the two pilots completed the landing.  She survived with no water and almost no food for 10 days before she found her way to landing site and reunited with her team. All 3 women were decorated with the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award, the first women ever to receive it.

With the outbreak of World War 2 the Soviet Union was in need of pilots and many women volunteered. However while there were no formal restrictions on Soviet women in the military, many found their applications were denied or mysteriously delayed. Raskova proposed the creation of women’s aviation units and used her celebrity status to propose the idea directly to the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Following a speech by Raskova in September 1941 calling for women pilots to be welcomed into the war, Stalin ordered the creation of 3 new air regiments, the 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment, the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, and the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, dubbed The Night Witches. These regiments were entirely formed of women, from the pilots to the engineers to the support staff. Each regiment contained around 400 women, most of them in their early twenties, who completed 4 years’ worth of training in a matter of months.

Raskova personally took command of the 125th Bomber Regiment, for which she obtained the very best equipment available, including the state-of-the-art Petlyakov Pe-2 bombers, which caused some resentment from male units. The 125th regiment went on to fly 134 missions over the course of the war, dropping over 980 tons of bombs.

Raskova herself was killed on January 4th 1943, while attempting to lead two other Pe-2’s to a safe airfield. She was forced into making a forced landing on the Volga Bank, which resulted in the deaths of the entire bomber crew. Raskova received the first state funeral of the war and her ashes were buried in the Kremlin Wall beside those of fellow pilot, Polina Osipenko. She was posthumously awarded the Order of Patriotic War 1st Class and the regiments she created continued to serve for the duration of the war.

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Soviet female pilots also flew with bravery and distinction fighting against the Germans. 

Thanks for the recommendation Jenn.

Source:  Wikipedia

“Night Witches” is the English translation of Nachthexen, a World War II German nickname (Russian Ночные ведьмы, Nochnye Vedmy), 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. The regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya.

The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war.[1] At its largest size, it had 40 two-person crews. It flew over 23,000 sorties and is said to have dropped [2] 3,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot 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 of its members died in combat.[3]

The regiment flew in wood and canvas Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes, a 1928 design intended for use as training aircraft and for crop-dusting, and to this day the most-produced biplane in all of aviation history. The planes could carry only six bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary. Although the aircraft were obsolete and slow, the pilots made daring use of their exceptional maneuverability; they had the advantage of having a maximum speed that was lower than the stall speed of both the Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, and as a result, the German pilots found them very difficult to shoot down. 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 to reveal their location. German soldiers likened the sound to broomsticks and named the pilots “Night Witches.”[4] Due to the weight of the bombs and the low altitude of flight, the pilots carried no parachutes.[5]

From June 1942, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was within the 4th Air Army. In February 1943 the regiment was honored with a reorganization into the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment and in October 1943 it became the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.[6] The word Taman referred to the unit’s involvement in two celebrated Soviet victories on the Taman Peninsula, during 1943.

Russian Night Witches

“Night Witches” is the English translation of Nachthexen, a World War II German nickname (Russian Ночные ведьмы, Nochnye Vedmy) 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. The regiment was formed by Colonel Marina Raskova and led by Major Yevdokia Bershanskaya.

The regiment flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war. At its largest size, it had 40 two-person crews. It flew over 23,000 sorties and is said to have dropped  3,000 tons of bombs. It was the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot 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 of its members died in combat.


The women of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, with their aircraft in the background


Nadia Popova, one of the first volunteer pilots, was motivated both by patriotism and revenge. She was once quoted as saying that she could see “the smiling faces of the Nazi pilots” as they strafed women and children in the streets as they fled from their Luftwaffe attackers.

Popova’s own brother was killed after the Germans invaded. Her family home was commandeered by the Germans to use as a Gestapo police station, when they smashed the windows and cut down the long-established cherry trees.

This photo shows Nadia Popova, right, and her co-pilot Katya Ryabova. They were members of the legendary 46th Night Bombing Regiment.


Marina Raskova is often regarded as the Russian Amelia Earhart. She was born in 1912 and became the first female navigator with the Soviet Air Force in 1933. A year later she was teaching at the Zhukovskii Air Academy, the first woman ever to have achieved this level.

Before the war Raskova, along with two women co-pilots, made a record-breaking non-stop flight from Moscow to the Far East of Russia. When war broke out, she and many other female pilots volunteered, but their applications were blocked.

However, there was a radical turnabout in 1942, when Hitler’s army invaded the Soviet Union. Three million Russians became prisoners of war and the Soviet Air Force was badly in need of recruits.

Raskova took her chance. Supposedly she spoke with Stalin, convincing him of the merits of a greater fighter force – an all-women air force, to assist the war effort. She got what she wanted.

The 588th Fighter Aviation Regiment began operations in 1942. In February 1943 it was reorganized into the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, known unofficially as “Stalin’s Falcons.”

The third unit, the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment, was commanded by Marina Raskova until she crashed her aircraft on landing and died in 1943. She was just thirty years old.

Marina Raskova was given a state funeral and laid to rest in Red Square, Moscow, the city of her birth.


Hiuaz Dospanova, born in Kazakhstan in May 1922, the only female pilot from her country to serve with the Russian Air Force.

Dospanova demonstrated immense spirit and determination in 1941 when she rushed to the front to protect her country against the advancing Germans. But she wanted to fly. Aware that Raskova commanded the women’s air force, Dospanova went to see her and was immediately accepted.

Following Raskova’s death in 1943, Dospanova became the head of communications of the 46th Guards. Flying more than 300 missions, she fractured both legs during a night landing in blackout conditions. But within three months she returned to her regiment to continue the fight.

Hiuaz Dospanova received the Order of the Red Star. In 2004, by the decree of the President of Kazakhstan, Dospanova was awarded the title of National Hero. She died in 2008.


Natalya Kravtsova was born in the Ukraine. In 1940 she joined the glider school at Kiev and two years later, at the age of nineteen, she became one of The Night Witches, flying with the 588th Regiment. By the end of the war, Natalya Kravtsova had flown 980 night missions.


The pilot pictured below is Mariya Dolina. Born in Siberia, she moved to Ukraine with her parents and took flying lessons as a teenager. She joined the air force and became one of the best pilots of Raskova’s 125th Regiment. She described herself as being “impulsive and excessively restless,” but flew seventy-two successful missions. She died in 2010.


Pilots of the 46 Female Taman aviation regiment. Source: ITAR-TASS

Sources: http://rbth.co.uk/ , http://www.seizethesky.com/ , http://elinorflorence.com/ , http://www.theatlantic.com/ , https://en.wikipedia.org

Dedicated to http://deeisincharge.tumblr.com/

Hiuaz Kairovna Dospanova was the only female pilot and navigator from Kazakhstan to serve during the Second World War.

Dospanova was born in 1922 in the village of Ganyushkino, Kazakhstan. She was an excellent student and graduated with honors from high school No. 1 in Uralsk in 1940. Dospanova was a member of her local flying club where she received her pilot’s license.

Dospanova then moved to Moscow where she applied for admission to the Air Force Academy in Zhukovsky but was intially refused. She decided to study at First Moscow Medical Institute, where she was accepted without examination. A year later, the Second World War began. Women had been attempting to join the war effort in combat roles since the beginning, but it was difficult. Many had sent letters appealing to Colonel Marina Raskova, a Soviet pilot who was known as the “Russian Amelia Earhart”. Raskova lobbied to find ways for women to take an active role in the war and was highly successful, leading to women being eligible for the draft and even convincing the military to establish all-female units.

In October of 1941 Josef Stalin ordered Raskova to establish a trio of all-female air squads. The only one that remained exclusively female was the team of night bombers, the 588th Regiment, where everyone from the pilots, to the commanders, to the mechanics were women. Dospanova became a member of the 588th Regiment in May 1942 where she served as navigator before later becoming the head of communication of the 46th Guards Night Bomber Regiment.

The women faced difficulties with equipment, having to fly Polikarpov Po-2 aircraft which were two-seated, open-cockpit bi-planes that were obsolete even then. The planes were made of plywood frames covered with stretched canvas and were light, slow and provided no protection to those inside them. This did provide a slight advantage though, in that they were hard to target due to their slower stall-speed and they could take off and land almost anywhere. The planes had exposed cockpits, and pilots flying in the dead of night often got frostbite.

As their planes were vulnerable the cover of night was necessary for both their survival and success. Three planes would leave simultaneously, two drew searchlights and gunfire and the third remained conceled by the darkness so that it could drop bombs. The pilots would also kill their engines when they were near their targets and glide over while deploying their bombs to ensure that they would not be discovered. The German soldiers began referring to the women of the 588th Regiment as “Nachthexen,” or “Night Witches,” a name the pilots of the 588th took on with pride. There were rumours that the women had been given pills and treatments which gave them the night vision of a cat.

Dospanova made more than 300 combat missions to the southern front, the North Caucasus, Transcaucasia, Ukraine and Belarus. In April 1943 she was seriously injured while making a landing in blackout conditions. She survived by fractured both of her legs. Three months later she returned to the regiment to continue fighting. The 558th squadron was never disbanded, but became the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment.

After the war, Dospanova initially considered a return to medical school but dismissed the idea. First Secretary of the West Kazakhstan Regional Party Mynaidar Salin suggested that she work for the Communist Party and, after the approval of the regional party committee instructor she began her employment at the Higher Party School in Alma-Ata. She progressed from a party committee instructor in Western Kazakhstan to the secretary of the Central Committee of the Lenin Communist Union of Youth of Kazakhstan. In 1951 Dospanova was elected as the deputy of the Supreme Council of the Kazakh SSR, at the first session she was appointed as the secretary of the Presidium. Before her retirement, Dospanova was secretary of the Almaty City Party Committee and played an active role in the development and life of the then-capital. She died in 2008.

Dospanova was awarded with the Order of the Red Star, medals for the defense of the Caucasus, for the liberation of Warsaw, and for victory over Germany. Four years before her death, In December 2004, the Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev decreed that Dospanova was to be awarded the title of “Halyk Kaharmany” (National Hero) for her heroic actions as well as the honour of a special distinction: the Gold Star and the Otan Order.

Sources here, here and here.

Hiuaz Kairovna Dospanova was suggested by @istillcantthinkofatitle

Maria Dolina by klimbims
Via Flickr:
Maria Dolina (1922–2010) was a Soviet pilot and acting squadron commander of the 125th “Marina M. Raskova” Borisov Guards dive bomber Regiment. She was active primarily on the 1st Baltic Front during World War II. Performed 72 sorties by plane Pe-2, dropping 45,000 kg bombs. In six aerial combats the crew of Maria shot down 3 enemy fighters (in the group). On August 18, 1945 Dolina was awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union.