Yevdokia Bershanskaya was a female pilot who flew for the Soviets during WWII and commanded the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, the most fearsome all-female regiment of the war whose members earned the nickname “Night Witches” because of the stealth and precision of their attacks.
Born Yevdokia Davidovna Karbut in Dobrovolonye in the former Russian Empire, she was raised by her uncle after being orphaned in the Russian Civil War. A good student, she completed secondary school and enrolled in the Bataysk School for pilots, becoming a trainer after graduation. Before the war she was briefly married and had a son, and she became known by her married name Bershanskaya which she continued to use professionally during the war.
By 1941 Bershanskaya had amassed a decade of flying experience, so she was chosen to lead the newly-created 588th Night Bomber Regiment after renowned pilot Marina Raskova won Stalin’s approval to set up three female aviation regiments. Two years later the 588th was redesignated and renamed the 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment, but by then the women were already known by their nickname, “Night Witches”, which they earned because their daring tactic of cutting engines and gliding over their target to minimise noise allegedly meant the sound of their approach resembled the swish of a witch’s broom through the air.
At the time of their disbandment at the end of the war, the women had flown 23,000 sorties and dropped more than 3,000 tons of bombs on their German and Axis foes. Many of the Night Witches received military honours for their endeavours, and Bershanskaya herself became the only woman to ever be awarded the prestigious Order of Suvorov medal.
Bershanskaya met her second husband during the war: Konstantin Bocharov, regimental commander of the 889th Light Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. They married after the war, had three daughters and lived in Moscow. Bershanskaya died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 69.