Historical Figures

Marina Raskova, creator of “Night Witches”

Last updated:2022-07-25

Marina Mikhailovna Raskova (Раско́ва Мари́на Миха́йловна, 1912 – 1943) is a Russian pilot who distinguished herself in particular during the Second World War. Enlisted in the Red Army, she founded three all-female aviation regiments, including the 588 e NBAP, nicknamed "witches of the night" by the Germans.

First female navigator in the Soviet Air Force

Daughter of Professor Anna Liubatovitch and opera singer Mikhail Malinine, Marina Mikhaïlovna was born on March 28, 1912 in Moscow. One of her aunts, Tatyana Liubatovitch, is a famous singer. As a child, Marina was destined, at the instigation of her parents, to become a musician herself. But when she was seven years old, her father died in an accident and the little girl, suffering from intense stress, finally decided to give up music.

Marina then embarked on studying chemistry and, after graduating in 1929, was hired as a chemist in a dye factory. There she meets the aeronautical engineer Serguei Raskov, whom she quickly marries and with whom she has a daughter, Tatiana; they will divorce a few years later.

Marina Raskova then began to take an interest in aviation. The year after her wedding, she was hired by the Zhukovsky Air Academy. In 1934, she became the first female navigator in the Soviet Air Force. The following year, she became a certified pilot and instructor, then a test pilot in 1937.

In 1938, alongside Valentina Grizodubova and Polina Ossipenko, Marina set the record for the longest distance flown by a woman, crossing 5,900 km between Moscow and Komsomolsk. Forced to eject before the end of the flight – the plane threatening to crash and the navigator seat being more vulnerable – she must survive 10 days in the snow without water and almost without provisions before managing to find the plane . In November, the three women are made heroines of the Soviet Union for this achievement; they are the first women to receive this distinction.

Women's regiments during the Second World War

During World War II, in 1941, Marina Raskova campaigned for female pilots to be allowed to join the fighting. Without their presence being formally prohibited, their candidacies are in fact strongly discouraged. The airwoman would also have used her personal connections with Stalin to obtain the creation of female regiments. In October 1941, Stalin ordered the creation of the 122nd aviation group, composed exclusively of women (including engineers and ground crews), made up of three regiments:
– the 586th fighters, commanded by Tamara Kazarinova,
– the 587° of bombers, commanded by Marina,
– the 588° of night bombardment, later known by the nickname given by the Germans to the “witches of the night”. This regiment, commanded by Yevdokia Bershanskaya, will be the most decorated regiment of the Soviet aviation.

On January 4, 1943, while Marina was ferrying two Petliakov Pe-2 bombers to the front during the Battle of Stalingrad, a storm surprised her and she crashed against cliffs on the banks of the Volga. None of the crew survived. Stalin then orders a state funeral, and Marina Raskova's ashes are placed in the Kremlin wall.