“Night Witches” is the English translation of Nachthexen, a World War II German nickname (Russian Ночные ведьмы), 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 flew harassment bombing and precision bombing missions against the German military from 1942 to the end of the war.
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 two bombs at a time, so multiple missions per night were necessary.
There was a problem, however: the Polikarpov Po-2 was obsolete, slow and flew so low that parachutes were pointless to carry so…no parachutes, either.
The Night Witches turned this disadvantage on its head. Since the Polikarpov Po-2’s maximum speed was lower than the stall speed of the German Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Focke-Wulf Fw 190, they were ironically extremely difficult to shoot down. The Night Witches would often idle their engine and glide to the bomb release point to further avoid detection.