Who were the Nachthexen?

The Nachthexen or “Night Witches” was the German nickname given to the formidable female aviators from the 588th Soviet Night Bomber Regiment. The pilots saw their name as a badge of honour.

This regiment flew bombing missions for the Soviet Air Force against the German military during the Second World War. The female squadron trained as pilots, navigators and engineers.

The group consisted of 40 two person crews, flying over 30,000 missions and dropping 23,000 tons of bombs.

Each pilot flew more than 800 missions often carrying out eight every night. They were an unique unit, being the only all female combatants during World War II and were the most highly decorated female squadron in the Soviet Union Air Force.

The Night Witches flew biplanes made of wood and canvas which were originally built for crop dusting and training purposes. But this made them light which made it easier for the women to fly them. However, because of this it also made the planes slow and they could only carry six bombs at a time.

There were no parachutes on board the planes and the female pilots had no radar or technology to help guide them, only a compass and maps.

Due to the aeroplane cockpit being open, pilots would often suffer from numbness and frostbite during their flights.

The planes were very slow, with the maximum speed of the biplane being slower than the “stall” speed of German aircraft, so the Night Witches used the attack method of idling the engines and gliding before dropping a bomb.

This stealth mode left only the whooshing sound of the wind to give away their location and the Nachthexen would often return from the missions with bullets through their maps, planes and helmets.

The German fighters in their highly advanced aircraft feared the Night Witches because of their bravery and stealth.