Flying small biplanes made of plywood and canvas and carrying no radios or lights, The Night Witches were an all-female, all-volunteer regiment of Soviet bombers that terrorized German invaders during WWII. The 588th Night Bomber Regiment was formed after Stalin issued an order to deploy three divisions of female pilots on Oct 8, 1941 - making the Soviets the only Allies who allowed women in combat. Marina Raskova - think of her as the Soviet’s version of Amelia Earhart - was friends with Stalin and charged with forming the three squadrons alongside two other women.
Over four years, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment flew over 30,000 missions - dropping 23,000 tons of bombs on German invaders. These female pilots, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, would fly as many as 18 missions to the front lines in one night. The Night Witches - or Nachthexen - derived their moniker from German soldiers who equated the whooshing sound their light biplanes made as they swooped through the night sky to that of a sweeping broom. The sound was often the only warning the soldiers had of the impending bombs as these planes went undetected on radar. Propelled by patriotism, and often a desire for revenge, these brave women were so feared by the Germans that it was rumored that airmen would be awarded the Iron Cross Medal - one of the highest honors - for successfully shooting down their planes. There were also rumors that the women were given special injections which allowed them to see at night - making their aim on targets even more precise. The Night Witches were crucial in securing the Allied victory and many received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union (although somehow our history textbooks seem to have overlooked them…)