During WWII, the all-female Regiment 588 flew night bombing missions, both precision and harassment bombing, over the German military from 1942 until the end of the war. It had 40 two-person crews at its peak.
With more than 23000 sorties flown, and over 3000 tons of bombs thrown, Regiment 588 became the most highly decorated female unit in the Soviet Air Force, each pilot with over 800 missions, and 23 condecorated with the “Hero of the Soviet Union” title.
They were called the Night Witches due to the aircraft they flew, the Polikarpov Po-2. Originally a training and crop-dusting aircraft, this 1928 design could carry 6 bombs per flight, so multiple flights per night were needed.
Its main advantages were its great maneuverability and lower stall speed when compared to the German Bf 109Gs and Fw 190As, so it was found difficult to shoot down.
An attack technique of the bombers was to idle the engines when near the target, and glide to the bomb release point, the noise of the wind revealing their location. German soldiers assimilated the sound with a broomstick, so they named the Regiment, the Night Witches.