The women of the Russian 588th Night Bomber Regiment flew their tiny vintage aircraft night after night against a better-armed, better-equipped and better-trained enemy during the Battle for Russia, one of the longest and most brutal campaigns of the Second World War. The invading German forces soon came to call these courageous female pilots the Nachthexen, or Night Witches.
On 22 June, 1941, Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union. Russian men and women alike rushed to join in the fight to protect their country from the invaders. However, in the beginning, military officials rejected women without exception. The response to one young lady, who was later to become a Hero of the Soviet Union, was fairly typical:
But there were women who believed that they had as much right as the men to fight – and die – for their country.