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They came in the night – the all-female bomber regiment of the Soviet Air Force

During the Second World War, the Soviet Air Force initially barred women from serving in combat. That was until October 1941 when the pilot Marina Raskova personally convinced Joseph Stalin to deploy the world’s first all-female air force units to fight against Axis powers. Primarily made up of volunteers in their late teens and early 20s, these regiments flew wood-and-canvas Polikarpov U-2 biplanes, aircraft originally intended for crop-dusting and hardly equipped for warfare, lacking guns, radio, radar and even parachutes. In this short animated documentary, the US filmmaker Alison Klayman recounts the story of Nadezhda Popova (1921-2013), a pilot in the notorious 588th Night Bomber Regiment – known by fearful German soldiers as ‘Nachthexen’ (‘night witches’), for their sudden, nearly soundless approaches before devastating bombardments. In The Night Witch, Popova’s experiences – from her childhood to old age – represent the complex intersection of 20th-century warfare with women’s growing empowerment.

Director: Alison Klayman

Director of animation: Dustin Grella

26 October 2018

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