Marina Raskova

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Marina Raskova

Marina Mikhailovna Raskova (March 28, 1912January 4, 1943) was a famous Russian navigator, often referred to as the "Russian Amelia Earhart". She later became one of over 800,000 women in the military service in a huge way by founding three female air regiments which would eventually fly over 30,000 sorties in World War II.

Raskova became a famous aviator as both a pilot and a navigator for Russia in the 1930s. She was the first woman to become a navigator in the Soviet Air Force in 1933. A year later she started teaching at the Zhukovskii Air Academy, also a first for a woman. As significantly in the eyes of the Soviet Union which placed its aviators among those of celebrity status, she became the first in a number of long distance records. Most of these record flights occurred in 1937 and 1938, while she was still teaching at the Air Academy.

The most famous of these records was the flight of the Rodina (Russian for "Motherland"), a converted DB-2 long range bomber. She was the navigator of the crew that also included Polina Osipenko and Valentina Grizodubova. From the start, the goal was to set an international women's record for a straight-line distance flight. The plan was to fly from Moscow to Komsmolosk (in the Far East). When finally completed, the flight took 26 hours and 29 minutes, over a straight line distance of 5,947 km (total distance of 6,450 km).

However, the ordeal took 10 days when the plane was unable to find an airfield due to poor visibility. Because the navigator's cockpit had no entrance to the rest of the plane and was vulnerable in a crash landing, Raskova parachuted out before they touched down. She had forgotten her emergency kit and in spite of hoping to be near the landing spot, was unable to find the plane for 10 days, having no water and almost no food. The rescue crew had found the aircraft 8 days after the landing, and so were waiting when she found her way to it, after which all three women were taken to safety. All three women were decorated with "The Hero of the Soviet Union" award, the first females ever to receive it and the only ones to be awarded it before World War II.

When World War II broke out, there were numerous women who had training as pilots and many immediately volunteered. While there were no formal restrictions on women serving in combat roles, their applications tended to be blocked, run through red tape, etc for as long as possible in order to discourage them from seeing combat. Raskova is credited with using her personal connections with Joseph Stalin to convince the military to form three combat regiments for women. Not only would the women be pilots, but the support staff and engineers for these regiments. This military unit was initially called Aviation Group 122 while the three regiments received training. After their training, the three regiments received their formal designations as follows:

The 586th Fighter Aviation Regiment: This unit was the first to take part in combat (April 16, 1942) of the three female regiments and participated in 4,419 combat missions (125 air battles and 38 kills) under Tamara Kazarinova and Aleksandr Gridnev.

The 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment: This was the best known of the regiments and was commanded by Evdokiia Bershanskaia. It originally began service as the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, but was redesignated in February 1943 as recognition for service which would tally 24,000+ combat missions by the end of the war. Their aircraft was the Polikarpov Po-2, a very outdated biplane. The Germans were the ones however who gave them the name that they are most well known as, The Night Witches. They were also the only one of the three women's regiments to remain solely female throughout the war, a distinction they went to some lengths to maintain.

The 125th Guards Bomber Aviation Regiment: Marina Raskova commanded this unit until her death in combat, and then the unit was given to Valentin Markov. It started service as the 587th Bomber Aviation Regiment until it was given the Guards designation in September 1943. The unit was given the very best of the Soviet bombers, the Petlyakov Pe-2, while many male units used obsolete aircraft, a factor which led to much resentment. The unit flew 1,134 missions which saw them drop over 980,000 tons of bombs.

As mentioned, Raskova was the commander of the 125th Guards Bomber Aviation regiment. She died after her aircraft crashed attempting to make a forced landing at the base's airfield. She received the first state funeral of the war, and her body was buried in Red Square.

Information taken primarily from:
Wings, Women & War: Soviet Airwomen in World War II Combat, by Reina Pennington


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