Trailblazers: Marina Raskova

Marina Raskova (1912-1943) was a famous female aviator. Aviation was largely a man’s world in the beginning of the 20th century, but across the globe women like Marina Raskova, Amelia Earhart and Amy Johnson were proving that women had a right to be involved in this developing industry too. Marina blazed the trail for women in aviation in the Soviet Union and created the first female air regiments in the world.

Marina Raskova courtesy of Sergey G under the CC Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Marina Mikhailovna Malinina was born in 1912 and had initially wanted to be an opera singer but after a serious ear infection affected her abilities, she pursued a different route and went into engineering leading her towards the developing world of aviation.

Prior to the Second World War, Marina had already made a huge impact in the Soviet Union’s aviation industry, she was the…

  • First woman to earn the diploma of professional air navigation
  • First woman to fly with the Soviet Air Forces
  • First woman to teach navigation at the Zhukovskii Air Academy
  • Flew the longest straight-line distance flight with all-female team
  • Survived 10 days in the Siberian wilderness after having to evacuate her plane and managed to find the landing site of the plane and her team mates
  • One of the first women to be awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union award

By the time the Second World War rolled around, she had become a celebrity in the Soviet Union, and this position gave her some pull.

After Stalin’s paranoid purges, the Soviet Union’s armed forces were not in a good position when Russia was invaded by the German Army in June 1941. Marina delivered a powerful speech in September of that year, saying…

The Soviet woman-she is the hundreds of thousands of drivers, tractor operators, and pilots, who are ready at any moment to sit down in a combat machine and plunge into battle….Dear Sisters! The hour has come for harsh retribution! Stand in the ranks of the warriors for freedom…”.

Marina Raskova in 1938

She used her charisma and pre-existing connection with Stalin to persuade him to create female air regiments to help defend the Soviet Union. This led to the creation of the 221st Aviation Corps in October 1941 which was comprised of three units: 586th Fighter Regiment, 587th Bomber Regiment and the 588th Night Bomber Regiment which was nicknamed the Night Witches by the Germany Army. This nickname came from the whooshing noises their planes made as they attacked. Marina set up the headquarters at the All-Union Leninist Communist League of Youth buildings (known as the Komsomol), and was personally involved in recruitment. Most of the volunteers were young women in their late teens or early twenties, and despite some opposition in the predominately male army, they kicked some serious ass. The 588th Bomber Regiment alone undertook 30,000 missions from 1942-1945, particularly impressive when you consider their outdated planes and basic tools. 

Tragically Marina never got to see all they achieved or the fruition of her efforts for women in aviation as she died in a plane crash in 1943 aged 30.

In her short life Raskova achieved so much and truly blazed a trail for women in aviation. As historian Amy Goodpaster Strebe writes “Raskova served as a role model for her fellow aviators, male and female, not only for her tremendous skill and personal courage, but also for her ability to make decisions and lead under severe and often difficult circumstances”.

What do you think of Marina Raskova? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Flying for Her Country: The American and Soviet Women Military Pilots of World War II by Amy Goodpaster Strebe

Moscow 1941 A City & Its People at War by Rodric Braithwaite

Night Witches: A History of the All-Female 588th Night Bomber Regiment by Fergus Mason

Florida State University: Unit Cohesion Among the Three Soviet Women’s Air Regiments during World War II by Jessica Leigh Bhuvasorakul

History Collection: The Night Witches: The Female Russian Bomb Squad that Terrorized the Nazis During WWII

Britannica: Komsomol

The New York Times: Nadezhda Popova, WWII ‘Night Witch,’ Dies at 91

Wikipedia: Marina Raskova, The Night Witches, Aviation


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