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"Night Witches": Soviet pilots who were feared by all German soldiers

The 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Taman Red Banner and the Order of Suvorov Regiment, also known as the "Night Witches" - a female aviation regiment in the USSR Air Force during the Great Patriotic War.
The aviation regiment was formed in October 1941 by the order "On the formation of female aviation regiments of the Red Army Air Force."
The formation was led by the legendary Marina Raskova. Captain Evdokia Bershanskaya, a pilot with ten years of experience, was appointed commander of the regiment. Under her command, the regiment fought until the end of the war. Sometimes it was jokingly called: "Dunkin regiment", with a hint of a completely female composition and justified by the name of the regiment commander. The party-political leadership of the regiment was headed by Maria Runt.
The formation, training and coordination of the regiment was carried out in the city of Engels. The air regiment differed from other formations in that it was completely female. Created according to the same order, the other two women's air regiments became mixed during the war.
On May 23, 1942, the regiment flew to the front. Then its number was 115 people - the majority between the ages of 17 and 22 years.
The Germans nicknamed them "Night Witches" because all combat missions were exclusively night, and before diving into enemy positions, the pilots turned off the engines on their Po-2 biplane and only a quiet rustle of air under the wings was heard, similar to the sound of a broomstick.
From the memoirs of I.V. Rakobolskaya and N.F. Kravtsova: “The regiment was equipped with Po-2 aircraft. When the regiment was formed, there were 20 aircraft, then their number increased to 45. At the end of the war, there were 36 combat aircraft in the ranks. Our training aircraft was not designed for military operations. Wooden biplane with two open cockpits located one behind the other, and dual controls - for the pilot and navigator. (Before the war, pilots were trained on these machines). Without radio communications and armored backs, capable of protecting the crew from bullets, with a low-power motor that could reach a maximum speed of 120 km / h.
The plane did not have a bomb bay, the bombs were hung in bomb racks directly under the plane of the plane. There were no scopes, we created them ourselves and called them PPR (simpler than a steamed turnip).
The amount of bomb load varied from 100 to 300 kg. On average, we took 150-200 kg. But during the night the plane managed to make several sorties, and the total bomb load was comparable to that of a large bomber. The control was twofold: the aircraft could be controlled by both the pilot and the navigator. There were cases when navigators brought the planes to the base and landed after the pilot died. "
Until August 1943, the pilots did not take parachutes with them, preferring to take another 20 kg of bombs instead.
Machine guns on airplanes also appeared only in 1944. Prior to that, the only weapons to protect against enemy fighters on board were the TT pistols of pilots and navigators.
During the hostilities, the pilots of the air regiment made 23,672 sorties.
In total, the aircraft were in the air for 28,676 hours (1191 full days).
The pilots dropped more than 3 thousand tons of bombs, 26,000 incendiary shells. The regiment destroyed and damaged 17 crossings, 9 railway trains, 2 railway stations, 26 warehouses, 12 fuel tanks, 176 cars, 86 firing points, 11 searchlights. 811 fires and 1,092 high-power explosions were caused. Also, 155 bags of ammunition were dropped. For the combat history of the regiment, 302
people in 91 military specialties from the regiment commander to the parachute stacker served in it.
Irrecoverable combat losses of the regiment amounted to 23 people and 28 aircraft. Despite the fact that the pilots died behind the front line, not one of them is considered missing. After the war, the commissar of the regiment, Evdokia Yakovlevna Rachkevich, with the money collected by the entire regiment, traveled around all the places where the planes were killed, and found the graves of all the victims.
During the war years, 23 servicemen of the regiment were awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
In April 1945 and until the end of the war, the regiment helped in breaking through the enemy's defenses on the Oder.
For three years of fighting, the regiment never went to reorganize.
On October 15, 1945, the regiment was disbanded, and most of the pilots were demobilized.