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In the summer of 1941, Marina Raskova, a record-breaking aviatrix, organized the 588th night bomber squadron - composed entirely of women, from the mechanics to the navigators, pilot and officers.
One June 8, 1942, three planes took off on the first mission. The target: the headquarters of a German division. The raid was successful, but one aircraft was lost. The 588th fought non-stop for months, flying 15 to 18 missions a night. "It was a miracle we didn't lose more aircraft", recalls Nadia Popova. "Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets, but they kept flying."
From the battle of Stalingrad to the fall of Berlin, the regiment made 24,000 combat flights and dropped 23,000 tons of bombs. It was awarded the Soviet Union's highest collective military honor. Years after the war, Nadia Popova said, "At night sometimes, I look up into the dark sky, close my eyes and picture myself as a girl at the controls of my bomber and I think, 'Nadia, how on earth did you do it?"
With the aircraft icing up over the Siberian wilderness, the women tossed everything movable out of the aircraft to try and gain altitude. Finally, Raskova, who had been the navigator, decided she would have to go as well. She marked the aircraft's compass heading on a map and bailed out into the darkness.
“Gentlemen, I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?!” After a short pause, the crowd met her statement with great approval.