Meet The Truly Scary, Amazing "Witches" Of World War II

Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Women have done a lot of things through the years in order to fight for their country: served in thankless behind-the-scenes jobs, dressed up as men, kept things going on the home front, and waited forever for the armed forces to allow women on the front lines. Some women of the Soviet Union during World War II went to the extreme: They signed up to fly flimsy, outdated airplanes over Nazi-occupied territories to drop bombs on the enemy.

Vanity Fair tells the story of the so-called Night Witches, who terrorized the Nazis some 73 years ago. Beginning in 1941, women were recruited to three air squadrons, whose pilots, mechanics, and commanders were all women. They were led by famous pilot Col. Marina Raskova, who herself lobbied the government to form the squadrons. Only one of the three, the 588th, remained all-female.

Wearing men's shoes and uniforms, they trained to fly open-cockpit biplanes made of plywood and canvas. They were slow and had no armor, and left the women exposed to frostbite as they flew at night. They could only carry two bombs at a time, and that didn't leave room for parachutes. Still, the 40 planes flew through the dark and cut their engines as they swept in and dropped the bombs, often flying eight missions each night. Their silent entry is what spooked the Germans into calling them "Nachthexen," or Night Witches.
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Though they embraced the nickname, pilot Nadezhda Popova, who was awarded a Hero of the Soviet Union for her service, called rumors that they'd been given vision-enhancing drugs "nonsense." Well, maybe not, but if you ask us, those ladies had some superhuman powers of bravery.
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